By Jen Palmer, ND
Most physicians would advise their patients to avoid “fast food.” It’s nutrient deplete, high in trans fats and overloads us with excessive calories and sodium. But now there’s another major compelling reason - fast food packaging is sneaking in a dangerous unwanted ingredient called phthalates. A recent study shows that phthalate levels in urine are significantly higher in people who eat fast food as compared to those who do not.
What are phthalates?
Phthalates are ubiquitous industrial chemicals used in plastics, such as packaging and medical devices, to make them more flexible, less breakable and easier to use, thus given the term “plasticizers.” They’re not limited to plastics though; manufacturers sneak them into household cleaners, cosmetics, health and beauty products, flame retardants, and food packaging without us ever knowing. Because of loopholes in their regulation, these toxins aren’t required to be listed as an ingredient in consumer products.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a similar unannounced chemical that is ever-present in food and beverage packaging. Both chemicals are concerning because they leach into the food supply. For instance, they are present in the PVC materials used in tubing for milk processing, food preparation gloves, plastic cups, and food packaging. Absorption from packaging is most prevalent in higher fat foods such as dairy and meats. Both phthalates and BPA are absorbed into the body through off-gassing and inhalation, ingestion from leaching into foods, and transdermal absorption.
Health risks of plasticizers
Plasticizers and BPA have been implicated in causing birth defects, childhood chronic illnesses such as asthma, fertility issues, and cancer. They are known endocrine disruptors that mimic hormones such as estrogen, thyroid, and testosterone. They bind to hormone receptors and block natural hormones and normal responses, or overstimulate hormone receptors. Endocrine disruptors are known to cause hormone related diseases, such as endometriosis, cancers, infertility, thyroid dysfunction and more.
In this latest research, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, investigators wanted to determine if there was a correlation between eating fast food and having high toxin levels. Data was extracted from 8877 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2010). Phthalate and BPA urinary metabolites were measured in people who consumed fast food in the previous 24 hours and compared it to those who didn’t.
The focus of the study was on two specific phthalates, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), plus BPA. Data was collected from almost 9000 people who detailed their diet over the previous 24 hours. They found that in people who ate fast food during that time frame, phthalates were 20 percent to 40 percent higher as compared to people who did not recently eat fast food. They also noted that the more fast food they ate, the higher the level of urinary metabolites of phthalates were measured. There was not a significant correlation between BPA levels and fast food consumption.
What’s the solution?
Eliminating the manufacturing and use of phthalates and BPA has proved challenging. Several years ago, BPA and certain types of phthalates were finally recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as being toxic to humans and were pulled off the market. Newer, presumably safer chemicals replaced the old, yet still our problem persists. Over time, the new chemicals were discovered to be equally toxic. This procession of replacing one dangerous chemical with another has been ongoing for decades and has become a real-life game of whack-a-mole. Inevitably, the “safe” chemical replacements are found to be toxic.
How this translates to your clinical practice
Unfortunately, we are exposed to these types of chemicals from many sources far beyond fast food, but making recommendations to your patients to avoid packaged and fast food is a smart place to start for many obvious reasons. For elimination and treatment, detoxification protocols can be implemented to reduce toxin levels and potentially resolve chronic illnesses.
To learn more about specific testing methods for toxins and detoxification treatment plans, be sure to attend the environmental medicine intensive being offered at the 14th Annual International Restorative Medicine Conference at Hilton Head Island, S.C. September 15- 18, 2016.
Susanna D. Mitro, Cassandra A. Phillips, Ami R. Zota. Recent Fast Food Consumption in NHANES, 2003–2010. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510803