Friday, February 21, 2014

Toxins in the Food Chain

There are more than 4,000 chemicals in use for food packaging.  These chemicals fall in a category known in the industry as Food Contact Materials (FCM).  These synthetic agents could pose health risks to us when they leach into the foods we eat, says a report from environmental scientists.(1)  Some of these chemicals include cancer initiators (e.g. formaldehyde, bisphenol A) and hormone disrupters (e.g.  phthalates.)  Because so much of the food supply comes packaged it's exceedingly difficult to avoid FCMs.  We do not know what the real health impacts are over our lifetime exposure to them, but the scientists are warning that many "epidemic" chronic illnesses such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases could be getting made worse by FCMs.  Trying to pinpoint the health effects on a ubiquitous presence of 4000 synthetics is like looking for needles in haystacks.

The researchers identified the FCM's that have the largest potential for health impacts are from the hormone disrupters.  Many synthetic chemicals disrupt the metabolism of estrogen in particular.  In my clinical practice it is startling the numbers of women who have difficulties with their periods, like PMS, cramping, and heavy flows.  In men as well, the whole thing about low testosterone is being talked about in the media a lot.  While there is no small degree of marketing going into this, the environmental exposures to hormone disrupters could quite logically be at play in creating the symptoms.

What can be done?  Chiefly, one big way to avoid FCM's is to go back in time (so to speak) to growing your own fruits and vegetables, or buying them at farmer's markets and "putting them up."  In the summer my parents used dozens of Mason & Kerr jars of all sizes for foods from jams and jellies to applesauce to beets and green beans.  At summer's end our basement shelves were lined with jars and jars of food that we ate on all winter.

There are bisphenol A-free plastic storage bags for putting foods up in the freezer.  And, food dehydrators could certainly be used more.

To detoxify your body the following supplements and foods can be helpful.  Cruciferous vegetables (bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts.) supply healthy amounts of sulpher compounds that your liver uses to metabolize various chemical compounds.  Cilantro has strong detoxifying capability, as does cholorphyll (available at health food stores.)  Drink lots of water (from glass containers), exercise or take hot baths/saunas to stimulate sweating and deeper breathing, and get at least 25-30 gm of fiber a day will all contribute to keeping elimination pathways open so toxins can more readily leave your body.

So, you are not a hapless victim to the industrialized food manufacturers.  You have some concrete means at the very least of cutting down a lot on the exposures to FCMs and ridding your body of the ones you do have to be exposed to.

  1. J. Muncke, J. Peterson Myers, M. Scheringer, M. Porta. Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge? Epidemiology and Community Health, 2014 (in press) DOI:10.1136/jech-2013-202593


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