In his new book, Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals on Our Health and Future…and What We Can Do About It, Leonardo Trasande, MD, professor of pediatrics and directs the NYU Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards, talks about how our everyday surroundings are making us sick.
Thyroid Problems & Learning Disabilities
New studies find that common chemicals such as pesticides, flame retardants, and plastic softeners are linked to thyroid problems triggering disorders such as autism and learning disabilities in children.
The thyroid gland regulates and maintains multiple organ systems. Recent studies show that even subclinical thyroid problems in the mother can affect the fetus leading to cognitive problems, ADD, ADHD, autism, and even thyroid cancer.
Non-stick chemicals used in cooking and water-resistant clothing have been associated with lower levels of thyroid hormones in adults, requiring medication. Other chemicals found in plastic and paper packages, cigarette smoke, and fertilizers interfere with the uptake of iodine, which is needed for thyroid hormone production.
Everyday chemicals are also linked to declines in human fertility. Softeners (phthalates) used in personal-care products and food packaging as well as bisphenols used in aluminum can linings and thermal paper receipts counteract thyroid hormone, disrupt endocrine the system, and decrease sperm count. A 2017 meta-analysis showed a 52% drop in sperm count from 1973-2011 in men in North America.
A recent study found that Bisphenol-A, a common component in plastic articles (recycle codes 03 & 07) and used to line metal food and beverage cans, reduced the percentage of normally fertilized eggs by 50% during in vitro fertilization. Although further investigation is necessary this study shows that BPA can negatively impact reproductive health in women.
PFAS & Cosmetics
Many cosmetic products are full of potentially harmful chemicals such as PFAS, fluorine, and others. What’s even worse is that many of these chemicals are not even listed on the product labels. So even if you are trying to consciously avoid harmful chemicals it might be difficult. PFAS are also used in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting, and water-repellent clothing. They are added to cosmetics to make the products more durable and spreadable.
The CDC says some of the potential health effects of PFAS exposure include increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children, and a higher risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women.
In a recent study, the authors concluded that “PFAS are a large class of chemicals. In humans, exposure to some of these chemicals has been associated with impaired immune function, certain cancers, increased risks of diabetes, obesity, and endocrine disruption,” Sunderland said. “They appear to be harmful to every major organ system in the human body.”
The commonly held opinion that small exposures might be okay is not only misleading but flat-out wrong. Unfortunately, we are completely immersed in these types of chemicals. This calls for stricter regulations and raising more awareness. Recent studies show that even very low exposures in mothers can have significant effects on the developing brain of their fetus.
Simple steps you can take in order to limit your exposure are:
- Open your windows to improve the air quality in your living space
- When cleaning, use a wet mop/rag with household cleaners that are free of toxic chemicals
- Replace nonstick cookware with stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic/stone coated
- Eat organic and local
- Do more of your grocery shopping at farmers markets or stores that sell local, non-packaged foods
- Avoid canned foods or only use canned foods that have a non-toxic lining. There are several brands offering this such as Eden Foods
- Reduce your plastic footprint
- Read labels and buy non-toxic household and personal-care products