February 8, 2008

Blame that Plastic Baby Bottle

I have long contended that it is impossible for toddlers to develop Type 2 diabetes through overeating and lack of exercise. It takes more than a decade for adults to develop diabetes due to obesity. And quite a few studies have shown that toddlers with normal metabolisms regulate their food intake with surprising precision and will not become overweight even if given unrestricted access to food.

So it comes as a welcome bit of news that a recent study has found that Bisphenol A is leaching out of plastic baby bottles at an alarming rate, especially when these bottles are warmed. Here, at last, we find a very likely contributor to the epidemic of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes: Bisphenol A is a chemical known to disrupt endocrine function which has been tied to the development of diabetes and obesity in lab animals.

You can read the actual study by downloading the PDF you'll find linked on this page from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice:

Baby's Toxic Bottle

To quote the web page just cited, "BPA, a synthetic sex hormone that mimics estrogen, is used to make hard polycarbonate plastic. Ninety-five percent of all baby bottles on the market are made with bisphenol A. The results of the U.S. study show that, when new bottles are heated, those manufactured by Avent, Evenflo, Dr. Brown’s and Disney/First Years leached between 4.7 – 8.3 parts per billion of bisphenol A. Recent research on animals shows that bisphenol A can be harmful by disrupting development at doses below these levels."

The only scientists who question the harm done by this plastic that is used throughout our food supply are those on the payroll of the plastics industry.

While the presence of Bisphenol A in babies' and toddlers' blood streams may explain the early onset of the kinds of obesity that are not normally seen in children who have normal metabolisms, the exposure to this chemical and many other plastics suspected of disturbing endocrine functions doesn't end with the end of bottle feeding. Sippy cups are plastic. Water bottles are plastic. Ketchup and salad dressing bottles are plastic. Dishware and unbreakable glasses are plastic. Microwave trays are plastic. Your organic vegetables from the so-called "health food" store sit on plastic trays wrapped in plastic. It goes on and on.

Another related recent story found dangerous levels of phthalates in the bloodstream--another organic chemical which damages the body. Who knows what other plastics are leaching into us and what they are doing?

Plastics, you must remember, are made out of organic molecules and organic molecules have this way of fitting into the receptors in our bodies designed for something else and disturbing their function.

So yes, people may be obese because they overeat--but they may be overeating because vital receptors have been clogged by these organic compounds that are similar enough to substances like estrogen and other hormones to fit into receptors meant for them. The presence of these foreign organic molecules we call "plastic" are very likely to be disrupting the complex systems that regulate appetite, weight, and blood sugar metabolism.

The energy spent blaming victims of this unfolding disaster for their obesity and diabetes has taken attention away from the questions that should have been asked--like why are children too young to be able to eat themselves into any metabolic disease suffering the kinds of metabolic disruption we only see in animals with abnormal genes or those who have been intentionally poisoned in the lab?

We're getting some answers now, but it may be years until action is taken. Meanwhile our entire population has bodies laced with these chemicals, which may have become permanent parts of them. And while we are waiting for more evidence, you can count on industry representatives to continue to claim that their products are harmless, just like the cigarette industry did--very successfully--for a full 30 years after scientists linked cigarette smoking to a wide variety of cancers.

It will take a long time to get answers to the question of how much damage these plastics that infuse our environment have caused. Most medical research is funded by drug companies for whom the obesity and diabetes epidemics represent a golden opportunity to make money from each and every victim. A person with diabetes will have to take three or four expensive pills every day for the rest of their lives. Curing the diabetes epidemic would send their stock prices tumbling.

Other sources of funding have dried up, most notably government research dollars. Bush & Co. have done all they can to gut the government organizations like the EPA whose mandate use to be to protect the public. The EPA now spends its limited budget campaigning against laws that would limit pollution. So there is little money available to scientists who want to research questions like what the true impact is of these toxic plastics that are circulating in our blood streams. And for every dollar academic scientists scare up to look at these questions, ten are spent by the chemical industry to obscure the issue.

Don't let yourself be fooled! Demand that your elected representatives increase public funding for science that protects the public. And in this upcoming election, be sure that whatever your party affiliation you elect representatives whose records show that they respect science and that their support for "life" doesn't end the day a baby is born.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your right in everything you say. Add to the plastics the sugars and other chemicals manufacturers add to baby formula and food and we can see where the problems lie. These manufacturers only care about profits, our health be damned. I wonder if the increased use of plastics since the 50's and our increase in obesity and diabetes are related?

Jenny said...

Anonymous,

I'm fairly certain that it is some fatal combination of plastics and pollutants like pesticides that have caused the huge rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

I am old enough to remember the 50s and people who tell you that back then people were eating more healthily are dreaming. We packed away potatoes and cookies, lard laced pastries, and hot fudge sundaes like crazy, and a truly obese person was so rare that people still paid money to see them in circus freak shows.

The only people I knew growing up who were seriously overweight had "gland problems" usually thyroid or else they were post-menopausal women. I lived in a huge city with millions of people of every social class and ethnic background eating a wide variety of very fattening ethnic foods.

And the idea that people exercised more back then may have been true on farms--though most of the population was urban by the 1940s, but middle class women sat around their houses all day and would no more have exercised than they would have gotten a tattoo.

Scott said...

The only issue is do parents have any viable alternatives -- I don't think glass is realistic (or safe).

The prevalence of these chemicals in our food supply is unbelievable ... this chemical is simply everywhere, and now Birds Eye veggies is promoting the idea of cooking frozen vegetables in the bags (as if this is safe).

At some point, we must ask ourselves what price are we willing to pay for convenience and our disposable society, and that means more than dollars. I don't think society is ready to address this question seriously.

Jenny said...

Scott,

You must be young! Glass was the only kind of baby bottle used until sometime in the 1970s when doctors announced it was no longer necessary to boil baby bottles. Before that we used to always have to boil them before putting milk in them.

When my kids were babies in the early 1980s you could still buy glass bottles. I never heard of any horrible accidents caused by the use of glass bottles. They were quite heavy.

Anna said...

Glass baby bottles are still available and used, though not commonly. I have seen them mentioned on some Weston A. Price-oriented websites and forums.

And plastic sippy cups are not an absolute necessity, either. There are stainless steel beverage bottles (Kleen Kanteen & Lap Top Lunches are two that I have used or seen in person).

And I wouldn't do it now, while away from home I did use some plastic "sippy" cups when my now-9 yo son was very young. Mainly he was weaned from the breast to a glass cup, sturdy glasses were always used at home - a tough short "French bistro" type glass. None were ever broken by him and the heavy weight prevented a fair number of spills (lightweight plastic cups tip much easier). I am of the opinion that giving toddlers and preschoolers (or gack! school aged kids) spillproof and sippy cups for too long just delays learning how to drink out of a cup properly, but that's another rant :-).

So for the parents concerned about plastics, there *are* options other than plastic sippy cups.

Anna said...

For some odd reason I woke up this morning remembering when shampoo, of all things, came in glass bottles, not plastic. I guess that transition must have been in the late 60s/early 70s.

Liss said...

I share your concern about the hormonal effects of BPA and have been trying to kick polycarbonate out of my life as I prepare for (hopeful) motherhood. Jenny as a fellow low-carb devotee you likely spend as much time cooking special foods as I do. Have you found a polycarbonate-free food processor? I'm at my wits end trying to rid my kitchen of this toxic plastic.

Jenny said...

Liss,

My cooking is pretty simple nowadays. Since my kids grew up I've gotten pretty lazy and mostly roast and fry things. With just the two of us, it's hard to get into spending a lot of time cooking any more.

Even in my days when I did a lot of serious cooking for the whole family I never really got into using the food processor because of all the cleanup afterwards. I use it for making humus and cauliflower or squash soup, and that's about it.

I have an old glass blender that works well for that kind of thing, too.

Regina Wilshire said...

Glass baby bottles are still available, but you have to do some looking to find them - they're not readily available in the "big box" stores, but if you search online, you can get them!

Jordan said...

Jenny, you wrote: "I am old enough to remember the 50s and people who tell you that back then people were eating more healthily are dreaming. We packed away potatoes and cookies, lard laced pastries, and hot fudge sundaes like crazy, and a truly obese person was so rare that people still paid money to see them in circus freak shows."

Is it possible that our parents' and grandparents' dietary habits are having an impact on their children and grandchildren? I've read about the affect that a woman's diet can have on her unborn child. I've also read about how even our grandparents' diets can affect our health. I'm sure you've heard of the Pottenger cat study. Is it possible that diet could have a similar, if somewhat less dramatic, trans-generational influence on humans?

Let's remember that packing away "potatoes and cookies, lard laced pastries, and hot fudge sundaes like crazy" is not the natural human diet. That's certainly not how our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. How could eating such an incredibly unnatural diet have no impact whatsoever on our weight? It's illogical.

Maybe our parents and grandparents didn't suffer from their own dietary mistakes, but now we are. So this could be an accumulative effect that is becoming more and more pronounced with each passing generation. Their systems weren't as damaged as our systems are, so they could handle it. We can't. To me, this is more plausible than the idea that plastics are more to blame than junk foods/ processed foods, too many carbs, trans fats, etc.

Jenny said...

I got a degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago many years ago, and as a result I've actually studied how hunter gatherers live, so I don't subscribe to the current fad theory that they lived in a golden age filled with health.

And even if they did, the evolutionary pressures over the last 10,000 years have adapted our lives to agricultural and herding lifestyles so our physiology might be very different from theirs.

For example, they were very likely lactose intolerant but most Europeans and Semites have evolved to be lactose tolerant, because children born into herding societies who were lactose tolerant would be far better nourished and likely to survive than those who weren't.

I'm very much a fan of cutting the carbs, but I draw the line at making things up to suit my prejudices. When we do that, we are no better than the people who claim that eating fat makes you fat because that fits their prejudices.

I doubt that the diets of our grand parents were to blame in the way you cite. There is too much evidence of pesticide, PCB, and plastic toxicity throughout the ecosystem to conclude it isn't having a major impact on us humans too. Frogs didn't binge out on sundaes, and they're having their share of metabolic problems now, too.

Jordan said...

"...they lived in a golden age filled with health." Well, we're talking about weight, not health. I never claimed they enjoyed perfect health. But I imagine that infections, injuries, famine, etc., were huge factors in any lack of health back then.

From an evolutionary context, 10,000 years isn't a very long time. Yes, we've made some adaptations, but probably not enough that we can eat "potatoes and cookies, lard laced pastries, and hot fudge sundaes like crazy" without any negative consequences.

I eat dairy products (I'm not on a strict diet at the moment, so I'm not simply defending my own "prejudices," as you falsely claimed,) but just because we can "tolerate" dairy doesn't necessarily mean that that's an ideal food for us. Just because we can tolerate grains doesn't doesn't necessarily mean that that's an ideal food for us either.

You write that you're "very much a fan of cutting the carbs." I wonder why. I suspect that, because you've struggled with your weight, you've come to doubt the LC diet. After all, if you truly believe that we can pack away "potatoes and cookies, lard laced pastries, and hot fudge sundaes like crazy" without gaining weight, why not just eat that way? And besides, carbs aren't the only issue. Calorie intake matters, too. Even Michael Eades admits that.

I'm not "making things up to suit my prejudices." That's extremely rude. Let's be civil, okay?

You wrote: "I doubt that the diets of our grand parents were to blame in the way you cite." What's your opinion on the Pottenger cat studies, or the idea that what a mother eats affects her unborn child?

I didn't claim that the plastics in our environment are having *zero* impact on our health. What I wrote was that it is "more plausible than the idea that plastics are more to blame than junk foods/ processed foods, too many carbs, trans fats, etc." In other words, I think that the food we eat is having *more* of an impact on our health.

Grouchy said...

Its only anecdotal evidence (personal experience)but I can tell you that reducing exposure to a lot of artificial chemicals has reduced my weight and improved my health. Moreover while reducing chemicals I have increased my intake of the all the 'bad stuff'. That is I now routinely eat pasteries, whole milk, cream, butter, chocolate .. well you get the idea. Now I have to work at keeping weight up :P

Anonymous said...

I found glass evenflo 4 oz and 8 oz bottles online at BabysRUs about $10 for 6. I love the glass bottles, even compared to some of the BPA free plastic bottles I have. They are a little heavier, but the can be sterilized in the dishwasher, and they don't spot or stain like the plastic.
We're not planning on using sippy cups either, and have already purchased stoneware kids plates and cups for our 4 mo old.