Wednesday, March 27, 2013
NBC's Dateline on Hormone Disruptors, BPA, Triclosan, and Phthalates, and the Relationship to Beauty Products
NBC Correspondent Andrea Canning embarked on a study of her everyday products to better understand her exposure to the chemicals BPA (Bisphenol A), triclosan, and phthalates – also considered hormone disruptors.
Hormone disruptors, chemicals found in the products we use every day, can cause depression, anxiety, and, honestly, who knows what else. The FDA has concluded that these chemicals are safe in the recommended amounts. The scientific community isn't as sure. Hormone disruptors interfere with the endocrine (or hormone system) in animals, including humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities; severe attention deficit disorder; cognitive and brain development problems; deformations of the body (including limbs); breast, prostate, thyroid, and other cancers; and sexual development problems, such as feminizing of males or masculine effects on females.
Andrea Canning decided to have herself and her children, one a six-month infant and one a toddler, tested for these chemicals. Urine tests show these chemicals as they are excreted from the body. The results were astounding - so astounding that I went out the next day and bought new toothpaste. More on that below.
Before I tell you about Andrea's tests, I'll give you a brief intro to these very different chemicals. Bear with me; this is going to be long. Much of my information came from quick Wikipedia searches. I have not had time since Sunday to start reading the journal articles.
BPA is is used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins. It has been in commercial use since 1957 and around eight billion pounds of BPA are used by manufacturers every year. BPA-based plastic is clear and tough and is used to make a variety of common consumer goods (such as baby and water bottles, sports equipment, and CDs and DVDs). It's used for industrial purposes, like lining water pipes. Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as coatings on the inside of many food and beverage cans (apparently like my V-8 cans). It is also used in making thermal paper such as that used in sales receipts. It's "everywhere."
BPA exhibits hormone-like properties that have raised concern about its suitability in consumer products and food containers. Since 2008, several governments have questioned its safety, which has prompted some retailers to withdraw polycarbonate products. A 2010 report from the FDA warned of possible hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. The European Union, Canada, and recently the United States have banned BPA use in baby bottles. For the adults? They seem to have no concerns.
Triclosan is another story. It is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. Though many products contain triclosan, there is no evidence, according to the FDA, that triclosan provides an extra benefit to health beyond its anti-gingivitis effect in toothpaste. However, studies by the EPA found triclosan to be an effective antibacterial. Triclosan safety is currently under review by the FDA and Health Canada. I had heard a long time ago that the use of antibiotic ingredients in consumer products, like liquid hand soaps and sanitizers, were diminishing our natural resistance to bacteria. Some studies have shown Triclosan to be a hormone disruptor. I had never used these antibacterial products and started actively avoiding them when I learned of the questions about their use.
Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the United States, Canada, and the European Union over health concerns. Phthalates are used in a large variety of products, including fragrances, adhesives and glues, electronics, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal-care products, medical devices, detergents and surfactants, packaging, children's toys, modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles. Start looking, and you will find them everywhere.
Women may be at higher risk for potential adverse health effects of phthalates due to increased cosmetic use and the fact that phthalates are ubiquitous in beauty products. There is some evidence that there is an association between phthalate exposure and endocrine disruption, leading to the development of breast cancer. Want that in your makeup?
Andrea had herself and her children baseline-tested, before she made any changes to the products she used. Their baseline numbers were around the national average (which is pretty high). Then she tried to eliminate these chemicals by changing her family's diet and the products they use. She looked for fresh fruits and veggies (not canned), used unscented cosmetics, avoided antibacterial soap, and avoided plastic with the #7 recycling symbol (here is a fact sheet on plastics). She found triclosan in her Colgate Total toothpaste (I gasped; that's what I used to use before Monday), and she switched toothpaste.
When she was tested again after eliminating potential sources of hormone disruptors, her levels fell to almost zero. A relatively easy success! To test the test, the day after getting the zero-level test results, she tried to boost her numbers again by doing the normal everyday things she would have done before. She microwaved her oatmeal in a plastic cup, had canned soup and vegetables for lunch and dinner, put on makeup with fragrance, drank a V-8 and a diet Coke that came in cans, washed her hands with Dial soap, and brushed her teeth with Colgate Total. The result? Her numbers spiked immediately. Clearly, she was ingesting the hormone disruptors in these products. The chemicals from containers were leaking into her food. She was ingesting her toothpaste and beauty products.
She also tested her children. Their levels were also high - even though the FDA considers them "normal."
I don't like the idea of ingesting chemicals that may have harmful effects on my body. While I cannot give up perfume, I can avoid products that contain synthetic fragrances. I will have to start buying my beloved V-8 in glass containers - if I can even find glass. I don't eat canned food, but my mother does. From now on, only frozen veggies for her. I've already thrown out my Colgate Total. I found it contained not only triclosan, but also propylene glycol. For now, I'm testing Crest 3D Optic White. It contains no triclosan. I have always been label-conscious, but now I'll be especially vigilant.
You can see the episode I saw at this NBC link. It's worth a watch.
Photo courtesy of people.com