LET’S TALK ABOUT ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS!
A friend recently sent me OpEd by Nick Kristoff, How Chemicals Affect Us, and it brought me out of my sad and lonely hole of final exam cramming. It’s been incredibly easy to get lost in the math/science classes I’m enduring and completely forget that my end goal is getting my MD. Although I don’t know what field I’d like to specialize in, or if I’d like to specialize at all, (that decision is literally years away), but I’ve been interested in Endocrinology for awhile and this article reminded me why.
But first, a back story: A few years ago, before the idea of becoming a doctor even crossed my mind, my grandparents passed away within 3 weeks of each other. Lung cancer played a role in both of their deaths, and the cause - years and years of cigarette smoking - was the clear cause. But during the grieving process, I became intensely focused on what causes cancer and why so many people are dying from the various types. It was a mixture of my depression and anger that caused me to devote hours (years) of my life to reading about the chemicals in almost every product I used, and then to eventually purge myself of them.
I had already adopted a vegetarian diet before my anti-chemical crusade, but afterwards I stopped buying processed foods, things that came in boxes, shopped only at the farmers market, threw away all of my makeup and products and replaced them with natural counter parts. I made homemade cleaning products and wiped countertops with vinegar. I eschewed exterminators and Drain-O, even when my roommates pointed out that those things were currently necessary to survive in our East Village apartment. I sent crazed emails to family members and friends warning them of the dangers of pesticides, chemicals in canned goods, hydrogenated oils, coal mining, bisphenol-A, triclosan, meat treated with hormones, meat in general, shampoo, Purell, water bottles, tap water running for too long, light pollution, corporations, over-fishing and high fructose corn syrup.
After a few years of this tunnel-vision, I think I exhausted myself. My war on everything was a result of my depression and as I learned to cope, I started to descend back to Earth. However, I learned a great deal about chemicals during those dark days, and it’s partly that experience that got me enrolled in a postbac program at age 26, studying my ass off to become a doctor.
All of that said - I read this article last night and was reminded that all of these issues I cared about in 2008 are still major issues. Bisphenol-A is a chemical that is used in most plastics, and many studies show that it can be a serious endocrine disruptor, meaning it can act like a hormone and confuse the body, tricking the brain into thinking it is estrogen, and even causing neurological affects in infants and children. In any article you read, you’ll learn that studies about the chemical are inconclusive. ”Inconclusive.” “Debatable.” “Unproven.” “Ambiguous.” So the FDA continues to allow its production and use in the lining of cans, in plastic food containers, in electronic equipment and (less so) in baby bottles.
In Europe, things tend to work a bit differently, and health officials more often wait until something is PROVEN to be safe before it is allowed to be used. Here, we can use the product until it’s suddenly discovered to be harmful, 40 years down the line. And also unfortunately for us, chemical companies have an incredible about of lobbying power (read: $$$$) and their argument usually wins over our voting representatives. Totally unfair, but literally how our government works.
Bisphenol-A is just one of many chemicals in the treasure-trove of vague “organic compounds” found in the items we use everyday. At this point, I use canned goods all the time. I drink out of plastic water bottles a few days a week because I’ve now lost 3 reusable Sigg bottles. I feel overwhelmed by the thought of having to return to my former self and renounce all the conveniences in my life. Luckily, I’m able to see a bit more clearly now and I think it might be time again to make some subtle, manageable changes. I am an ADULT and there is no reason I can’t keep track of a water bottle. I can go to my neighborhood Whole Foods and buy some BPA free plastic food containers. Basically, I’m saying there are small changes I can make.
That said, it doesn’t take the possibly harmful chemicals out of our products. I don’t know what to do there, except post angry stories about it on my blog, sending my feelings into the ether and hoping that the concern will catch on and other people will post more angry stories on their blogs, and eventually people with actual importance will listen.
If you’re interested, here are a few more resources:
List of Products with Bisphenol-A
NPR Story on Chemical DES
Grist: Hormone Disruptors