What are phthalates?
Phthalates are semi volatile organic compounds found in plastics because they make them soft and flexible. Though commercially useful, these chemicals can easily leach out of plastics to contaminate our food, water supply, and even the air we breathe. This is when phthalates become a real problem.
How do phthalates cause problems?
Phthalates are also endocrine disruptors. Your endocrine system is made up a network of glands (thyroid gland, ovaries, etc.) and the hormones (insulin, estrogen, etc.) they produce. These hormones are used to communicate with cells and tissues to regulate many functions - this can result in insulin resistance, obesity and thyroid disease.
Phthalates, once in the body, disrupt the endocrine system in the following negative ways:
- They mimic, or partly mimic, our naturally occurring hormones
- When they mimic they bind to our hormone receptors so that our naturally occurring hormones can’t
- This bonding causes our bodies to have irregular physical responses since the hormones that are supposed to attach to our receptors can’t
Once our natural hormone function is disrupted our bodies can’t regulate our systems efficiently.
How to avoid phthalates?
In order to limit your phthalate exposure, think fresh and limit your plastic usage.
Because many phthalates can be found in food packaging, going fresh at the grocery store can have a huge impact on your overall exposure.
Though eating organic is useful in eliminating an array of phthalates it can also have a noticeable impact on your grocery budget. Non organic fruit and vegetables are okay too. If organic produce isn’t fiscally feasible, just make sure to give all your non organic fruit and vegetables a good water wash before cutting or biting into them.
If you decrease the processing (cutting, changing, repackaging etc.) of the food you buy you can actually decrease some phthalates. EXAMPLE: Buy a whole chicken vs. chicken tenders
Not only do glass containers tend to last longer and stand up to more washing than their plastic alternatives, they also take many phthalates out of the picture.
Buying a simple water filtration system can make a difference. While most tap water is considered safe to drink there may be trace elements of phthalates present that a simple water filter can remove.
We understand that eliminating all plastic may not be possible but the process of microwaving a plastic container can actually release any phthalates it contains. This is how phthalates can get into your food.
Plastics marked with any of the following recycling codes are potentially safe: PET, HDPE, LDPE and POLYPROPYLENE. We say “potentially” since current regulations do not require manufacturers to label their material. To be completely safe we recommend sticking to glass, paper, stainless steel, and wood alternatives.
If you would like more information on ways to deal with phthalates, please contact The Center for Internal and Integrative Medicine to schedule a consultation with Dr. Fatakhov.