When you order a product online, it often comes wrapped in plastic. Similarly, that tried-and-true makeup product you love probably has plastic packaging. Stocking up on snacks for a road trip usually means candy, gum, and other treats in plastic containers. While these things may be convenient, they often carry toxins that can affect both your physical and mental health.
That’s because the plastic products we are so accustomed to using on a daily basis are often made with harmful chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which can seep into the products they hold. Believe it or not, these so-called microplastics can make their way into your body and wreak havoc on many bodily systems, threaten the regulation of hormones, and pose serious health risks.
Some experts estimate that people may ingest or inhale over 100,000 tiny particles of plastics known as microplastics each year simply by participating in such normal activities as drinking water, putting honey in their tea, or using plastic straws.1
To put this number into context, a popular way of representing that volume of plastic is by imagining that you are ingesting a credit card every year. Worse, these tiny plastic particles build up in your system over time and could negatively impact your mental health in numerous ways. Understanding how microplastics and their associated toxins impact your health can help you learn new ways to reduce their impact on your life.
Common Plastics You May Interact With
It is nearly impossible to escape plastic in your daily life, even if you avoid things like plastic food containers and straws as often as possible because microplastics are in nearly everything you interact with or consume. While the FDA officially banned personal hygiene products containing plastic microbeads in 2015, your favorite facial cleanser still more than likely comes in a plastic bottle. A plastic bottle of water you buy at the corner store likely has microscopic pieces of plastic that slipped into the waterways when larger products were recycled and are nearly undetectable.
In fact, most products that you use every day have some plastic in them. Your favorite toothpaste is often held in a plastic tube. Organic produce and other foods may be packaged in plastic wrap or containers. When you do not feel like cooking dinner, your takeout order will likely be placed in plastic containers. These things may seem minor when you view them separately, but they can have serious implications for your health over time.
How Does Plastic Affect Human Health?
Products you use on a regular basis, like shampoo, dental flossers, and disposable eating utensils, are probably the plastic that you are most familiar with because you encounter them regularly. Still, unless you are an expert, it is unlikely that you are familiar with the process required to create, distribute, and destroy or recycle plastic. It’s important to know that every stage of this cycle can pose unique threats to your health and the health of those around you.
Plastics are created with five key chemicals: polystyrene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate, and polyethylene. These materials are derived from fossil fuels and may be unleashed into the air and water systems during the extraction process. These chemicals and more can also be released during the creation of plastic products as well as when they are being recycled or destroyed because the process often involves incineration.
Chemicals like ethylene and polypropylene that end up in the air or in waterways during the life cycle of plastic can have major impacts on human health.2 Some of the common ailments that are related to these chemicals include cancer, developmental delays in children, and problems with hormone production in the body. In addition, if you are exposed to plastic toxins frequently, over time, you may also experience mental health issues due to the way they can affect the brain.
How Does Plastic Affect the Brain?
Experts have studied the impact of plastics on human health for a long time. Recently, however, as researchers discovered the sheer volume of microplastics humans are exposed to from daily activities, a body of research has developed that focuses on how plastic toxins and microplastics can impact your brain. Exposure to plastics over time can have a negative impact on mental health and brain function.
For example, some studies suggest that a buildup of microplastics or chemicals like BPA and ethylene can introduce neurotoxicity, a condition where toxins disrupt the normal activity of the nervous system and can even kill neurons. As a result, this damage to the nervous system affects the way chemical signals are processed in the brain and could potentially cause changes in cognition, memory, personality, behavior, movement, vision, and even sexual function.3
Other studies suggest that the inhalation of nanoplastics and their eventual location in the brain could block the production or distribution of important enzymes, which may heighten the risk of cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease, behavioral changes, and more.4 Things like neurotoxicity and the risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive delays from plastic are alarming, but there are also some brain changes that can impact mental health.
When chemicals in plastic, like phthalates, are introduced to the body, they can change the way the brain produces hormones and even how it develops. These changes could contribute to increased occurrences of ADD, depression, or even symptoms similar to schizophrenia.5
15 Years Experience by Professionals Who Understand Your Journey.
Any plastic product you encounter, whether it is the new vinyl flooring in your laundry room or your favorite lunch box, likely has phthalates in it. These chemicals can also be present in the hose you use to water your flowers and the lubrication oil for your car. These chemicals, sometimes called plasticizers, are typically employed to make products more durable.
Phthalates are present in nearly every area of life, so you may consume them after eating something from a plastic container. Worse, your child may consume them when they put their favorite plastic toy in their mouth. The NIH has found that because they often use a variety of beauty products like shampoo and body wash, women often have higher levels of phthalates in their system, which could lead to problems.6 In most cases, these chemicals are able to break down in your body because they are converted into metabolites and then exit your system in the urine.
You are likely exposed to several phthalates during the course of an average day without realizing it. If you carry a handbag or briefcase made of artificial leather, then you will encounter Mono-2 (Ethylhexyl) phthalate or MEHP. Diethyl phthalate, or DEP, is found in everything from your toothbrush to the aspirin you take for a headache. These chemicals and more are relatively harmless in small exposures, but over time a high concentration may build up in your body, which could lead to phthalate toxicity.
Effects of Phthalate Toxicity
Evidence shows that your endocrine system, which controls the hormones released into your bloodstream, can suffer if there are high concentrations of phthalates in your body. Your thyroid is the system responsible for regulating your metabolism and helping your body grow. If you have a significant amount of the phthalate DEHP, or diethylhexyl phthalate, in your bloodstream, it can lead to hyperthyroidism, reduce your metabolic function, and cause you to gain weight rapidly.
The reproductive system is also at a high risk of experiencing phthalate toxicity. High concentrations of phthalates in the bloodstream during pregnancy could cause the fetus to develop abnormally or experience birth defects. Some infants are diagnosed with phthalate syndrome, which is marked by malformations to their genitals.
Extreme exposure to phthalates over time can also have an impact on a man’s testicular health, a woman’s fertility, and respiratory health. Evidence suggests that MBzP, a phthalate metabolite found in urine, could also be connected to asthma and behavior problems in children.7 The effects of phthalates and other chemicals found in plastic can be devastating if left unchecked.
What Is Environmental Medicine?
One way to reduce the impact of plastic toxins and microplastics on your physical and mental health is to take an environmental medicine approach. Environmental medicine recognizes that there are countless things in the world around you that can impact all aspects of your health. In its most general sense, environmental medicine attempts to prevent or mitigate the physical and mental health affects the environment has upon you.
When you are being treated with an environmental medicine approach, you and your medical team recognize all sources of toxins, including the chemicals that may be present in medication, food treated with pesticides, the potential for heavy metal and plastic toxins in the water you drink, and even the plastics you encounter in daily life. Each of these sources of toxins can make you feel unwell. Individually or taken together, those toxins may also lead to increased anxiety, poor mood, a tendency toward substance use disorder, suicidal ideation, and other mental health symptoms.
Treatment plans look at every part of your surroundings, from potential pollutants in your food and water sources or the medications you are taking to chemicals that may be present in your home. Together, these aspects can be used to determine the best course of action. It is important to understand that your brain can be seriously impacted by toxins that can pass through your blood-brain barrier and cause problems with your mental and physical health. Taking multiple health factors into account and considering how the biochemical functions of your brain can impact your physical and mental health allow environmental medicine practitioners to create a comprehensive plan to meet your needs and help you heal.
Treating Exposure to Toxins with Environmental Medicine
As mentioned, environmental medicine considers the full scope of your life when creating a treatment plan. For example, if you have asthma, rather than just prescribing an inhaler to treat the symptoms, an environmental medicine practitioner will evaluate your environment to determine if that is a factor in your illness. If you exhibit mental health symptoms like anxiety or depression, instead of looking for an additional chemical – a psychotropic drug – to address the issue, an environmental medicine practitioner will evaluate all potential sources of those symptoms.
Toxins like phthalates, radiation, or dioxins in your daily life can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, or hyperactivity. These toxins can negatively impact your physical health by contributing to chronic fatigue, lowered metabolism, and more. With proper testing, the team at Alternative to Meds Center can determine whether environmental factors like plastic toxins are contributing to your symptoms, work to reduce the buildup of toxins in your system, and help you find ways to eliminate or minimize your exposure.
Reducing Plastics in Your Environment
When you are in direct contact with phthalates, mercury, and arsenic in plastic products, the regulation, expression, and communication of neurotransmitters in your brain can be impacted. As mentioned, neurotransmitter disruption could contribute to symptoms like paranoia, depression, or an inability to concentrate. Thus, working to minimize your contact with these substances may be a way to address your symptoms. You may not be able to entirely eliminate plastics from your life, but limiting your exposure to them in your personal life can help.
There are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of plastic in your life. See if these solutions may work for you:
Use chewable toothpaste tablets
Use a filter to reduce microplastics in your water
Use cloth produce bags when you grocery shop to protect your produce from the chemicals in plastic bags
Use cloth or paper bags to carry groceries from the store to your home
Store leftovers in glass containers to keep them fresh while also keeping harmful plastic chemicals away from them
Avoid heating food in plastic containers
Switch to a glass or metal water bottle
Alternative to Meds Center for Holistic Detox Treatment
Toxins from plastic can seriously impact your mental and physical health. If you want to combat these toxins and improve your health, the experienced team at Alternative to Meds Center can help. Via a comprehensive evaluation and thorough testing, we can determine which environmental factors and which toxins may be impacting your health — and create a personalized plan to reduce the levels of toxins in your system.
Modern living exposes us to an alarming plethora of toxins, enveloping our air, water, food, fuels, solvents, drugs, heavy metals, hygiene products, dry cleaning substances, plastics, and even the materials used in our homes and furniture. Almost every aspect of our lives is tainted with chemical poisons that demand our bodies’ attention and resilience. Hence, implementing effective detoxification measures becomes imperative to support our well-being and counter the toxic onslaught we face daily. Reducing contact with plastic toxins like phthalates can limit your toxin load and allow your body to begin flushing toxins from your system. However, holistic detoxification may still be necessary.
2. Fan, C., Huang, Y., Lin, J., & Li, J. (2021). Microplastic constituent identification from admixtures by Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy: The use of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon (NY) as the model constituents. Environmental Technology & Innovation, 23, 101798. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eti.2021.101798
This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.
Dr. Samuel Lee
Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente. He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
Lyle Murphy is the founder of the Alternative to Meds Center, a licensed residential program that helps people overcome dependence on psychiatric medication and addiction issues using holistic and psychotherapeutic methods.
Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.
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