Does Plastic Cause Miscarriages?
Exposure to a chemical leeched from plastics used in food packaging may increase the risk of miscarriages, reports a study in Human Reproduction (Electronic publication, accessed June 9, 2005. In print). This finding supports previous research suggesting that exposure to various compounds that migrate from plastics into our food supply can interfere with the functioning of certain hormones and with reproduction.
Bisphenol A is a compound used to manufacture polycarbonate plastic products, which are used in the packaging, storing, and preparation of many foods and beverages, including water jugs, bottled beverages, baby food, and juice containers. Canned foods and beverages that are lacquer-coated with a plastic lining also contain substantial amounts of bisphenol A. This chemical may be absorbed into foods and beverages during storage, and with repeated use of the container. Vegetables stored in lacquer-coated cans, as well as the liquid in those cans, have been found to have estrogenic activity, all of which could be accounted for by the presence of bisphenol A. In a study with mice, exposure to bisphenol A caused puberty to occur at an earlier-than-normal age. Other research with mice showed that oral administration of bisphenol A in “environmentally relevant” amounts causes chromosomes to develop abnormally, an effect that would be expected to increase the risk of miscarriages.
In the new study, blood levels of bisphenol A were measured in a group of Japanese women who had a history of at least three miscarriages, and in a control group of women of similar age who had never been pregnant. The average blood level of bisphenol A was more than three times as high in the women with recurrent miscarriages as in the control group.
While that finding by itself does not prove that bisphenol A caused the miscarriages, the results are consistent with earlier evidence that this compound can interfere with normal reproduction. Another group of chemicals—known as phthalates—that is absorbed into foods and beverages from plastic packaging has also been implicated as a possible cause of hormonal and reproductive abnormalities. In Puerto Rico, nearly 1% of girls have premature breast development by the age of two years. More than two-thirds of girls with premature breast development had significant levels of phthalates in their blood, compared with only 3% of children with normal development. The phthalates identified in these girls’ blood were confirmed in earlier research to be hormone-disrupting chemicals.
A growing body of evidence suggests that some of the plastics used for storing foods and beverages are not safe, and that we should rethink how we package and wrap our foods. Hard plastic containers (such as most five-gallon water bottles) appear to be safe.
An expert in nutritional therapies, Chief Medical Editor Alan R. Gaby is a former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition. He is past-president of the American Holistic Medical Association and gave expert testimony to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine on the cost-effectiveness of nutritional supplements. Dr. Gaby has conducted nutritional seminars for physicians and has collected over 30,000 scientific papers related to the field of nutritional and natural medicine. In addition to editing and contributing to The Natural Pharmacy (Three Rivers Press, 1999), and the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Dr. Gaby has authored Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima Lifestyles, 1995) and B6: The Natural Healer (Keats, 1987) and coauthored The Patient's Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999).
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