By Essence Maston, PhD & Greg Hall, MD

Many of the plastics that we use could be damaging to our health.  Do you store food in plastic containers or even wrap food in plastic wraps?  Science has shown that small amounts of dangerous chemicals are absorbed by the food while they are in direct contact. These chemicals could change the level of hormones in your body. Some believe the higher occurrence of infant and mother mortality, diabetes, and obesity may be related to these chemical exposures . . . particularly in African American women.

The overall safety of plastics has been the topic of many debates. Should plastic be heated? Should containers be reused – if so, how many times is too many? What precautions should be taken? What is “BPA”?

Bisphenol A, or BPA for short, is a chemical used to make some plastics and is found in many plastic products, including plastic gloves, water bottles, baby bottles, food storage containers, plastic wraps, and much more.

Chemicals from these plastics have been known to seep into the body by way of everyday products. BPA and certain types of vinyl can disrupt normal hormone pathways, and either turn off the production of natural hormones or cause too much release. When there is a surplus of hormones in the body, there is a greater risk of cancer.  African Americans have the highest risk for cancer of four of the top five causes including cancers of the breast, colon, pancreas, and prostate. Some believe that our exposures to these chemicals, particularly when we are young (or pregnant) can seriously throw off our (or our child’s) natural development and function.

Experts say not to microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable but may break down from overuse at high temperatures over time. Canned foods have a BPA coating on the inside of the can to keep food fresh but over time, the chemical seeps into the food. Be deliberate about looking for BPA-free baby bottles.

BPA can leach into alcohol spirits from plastic containers due to its solvent nature. Alcohol is frequently used to dissolve other chemicals, but in this case, it is best to choose glass alcohol bottles.

The degree to which BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid may depend more on the temperature of the liquid or bottle than the age of the container.  Keep your plastic containers from both sun exposure and heat.  Take paper plates/bowls to work and microwave food taken in plastic on one of those products.

Reading labels and searching for products that are BPA-free can limit your exposure to harmful plastics. Using glass containers and water bottles is also a helpful alternative to plastics. While a little more expensive than plastic, the life of the product and the associated health risk outweighs the cost.

While many choose only to drink “bottled water,” a safer alternative is to drink your refrigerator-filtered water in a glass.