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Do Plastic Products Impact Your Health?

The chemicals to watch out for and safe alternatives to try
By Janette Klepek, DO

Plastic products are often made up of a variety of materials including certain chemicals that may be harmful to your health and the environment. Some chemicals including lead and mercury are extremely toxic and can pose an immediate health risk. Recurrent or prolonged exposure to other chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), have been linked to an increased cancer risk, can damage your endocrine system, lower your immune system and can cause birth defects or developmental delays. Board-certified family medicine physician, Jannette Klepek, shares which chemicals commonly found in plastic products you should avoid and alternatives you can try that are heathier for your family and the environment.

Plastic-based products are all around us, from shopping bags to water bottle, baby bottles and eating utensils. While plastic products may offer some added convenience and are often relatively inexpensive, they often contain chemicals that can increase your risk of developing some serious health conditions over time. Below are chemicals you should avoid, the household products they are often found in and the health risks associated with each.

Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is commonly found in plastic containers used to store food and beverages, such as water bottles and food packaging. Over time, exposure to BPA can increase your risk of cancer, weaken your immune system and lead to other health conditions like diabetes and elevated blood pressure.

Phthalates (DEHP, DINP)
Phthalates are chemicals used in softened vinyl products such as clothing, shoes, product packaging and food wraps. These chemicals can damage your endocrine system, cause asthma, weaken your immune system and increase your risk of birth defects, infertility and cancers.

Polyvinylchloride (PVC)
PVC can be found in food packaging and plastic wrap, as well as other household items such as shower curtains, garden hoses and even some toys. PVC exposure can increase the risk of birth defects and cancer and can also lead to other health conditions including chronic bronchitis, ulcer formation and digestive or skin conditions.

Tetrafluoroethelyne may be used in non-stick coating found on pots, pans, irons, ironing board covers, plumbing and tools. Exposure to tetrafluoroethelyne can irritate your eyes, nose and throat and may cause breathing difficulties.

These are just a few of the chemicals found in plastic products that are known to have a negative impact on your health. You can reduce your risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals by using plastic-alternatives whenever possible. You can also take the following precautions:

  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers or putting them in the dishwasher. Plastic products can break down over time, exposing your food or beverages to their chemicals.
  • Keep your children safe by avoiding plastic teething rings and toys. Use bottles, toys and pacifiers that are clearly marked as BPA-free. If a product isn’t labeled, it may contain BPA and you should consider an alternative if there is one available.
  • Use a stainless steel or glass water bottle, which often last longer and are more durable than plastic bottles.
  • Cut back on canned food and beverages. Most cans are lined with a resin that contains chemicals, such as BPA.
  • Store food in glass or metal containers and use natural plastic wrap alternatives when available. Bee’s wraps (made from beeswax), organic cotton and natural oils are all suitable alternatives.
  • Select clothing, bedding and furniture made of natural fibers.
  • Swap out plastic cutlery and cooking utensils for wood or stainless steel versions.
  • Bring your own reusable fabric bags when shopping. Trips to the store often require the use of several plastic bags to bring items home, creating a lot of unnecessary plastic waste. Not only will the environment thank you, but you will eliminate the risk of chemicals coming into contact with your food.

Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your family from coming into contact with harmful chemicals by knowing which chemicals to avoid and trying a few simple swaps. For more information on how to stay proactive about your health and keep your whole family well, or to schedule an appointment with one of our family medicine providers, visit www.dupagemedicalgroup.com/services/family-medicine.

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