The world is awash with plastics and their chemical constituents. They're in the water, the soil, and in the air. They're even in you. You ingest them, inhale them, even pick them up through dermal contact.
Granted, you piss a lot of them out. You even crap a lot of them out. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Medical University of Vienna found that the average person had 20 particles of plastic per 10 grams of stool (1).
If this keeps up, we'll soon be more Buzz Lightyear than human and our turds will make colorful, ready-to-use paperweights and doorstops that last a thousand years.
The problem is that some of these plastics could have serious health implications. Animal studies show that chemicals contained in plastic affect reproductive organs by mimicking estrogen. They shrink the testes, make germ cells degenerate, and muck-up hormonal feedback systems. Some human studies have also shown feminization of male offspring.
And while research is inconclusive, it just makes sense that they could also contribute to breast, prostate, or testicular cancer, along with possibly monkeying up human health in general in a number of ways. They even act as obesogens – chemicals that make you store fat.
There may, however, be a relatively easy way to rid the body of some of these stored chemicals, and it doesn't involve any ridiculous detox schemes or formulas.
One of the major chemical components of plastic is a group of chemicals known as phthalates. They're used as plasticizers, or substances added to plastics to make them more flexible, transparent, or to increase their longevity.
First developed in the 1920's, phthalates are used in paints, fragrances, nail polishes, medical devices, PVC, food and beverage packaging, soft plastic toys, vinyl floor tiles, shower curtains, synthetic leather, shopping bags, and pharmaceuticals.
They're even in our shorts and panties (although, to their credit, Victoria's Secret made sure their delightful wares were phthalate-free starting in 2013). If you're a guy, your schlong is probably more chemically processed than a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage.
Unfortunately, these phthalates are responsible for many of the endocrine-disrupting effects associated with plastics in general.
In an effort to find out if and how the body rids itself of phthalates, researchers from the University of Alberta recruited 20 test subjects (10 of whom were healthy and 10 of whom had various health problems) and collected blood, urine, and sweat from each of them (2).
All subjects had MEHP (mono(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) and DBP (dibutyl phthalate) in their blood, sweat, and urine samples, although the concentration of the compound was twice as high in sweat as it was in urine samples.
In some individuals, another type of phthalate, DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate), showed up in sweat but not serum (blood). This was a big surprise because it had been previously thought that DEHP was broken down into various metabolites and excreted. Any toxicity was thought to be caused by repeated or chronic exposure, but the current study showed that the body was retaining and accumulating phthalates, at least DEHP.
Since so much phthalate was found in sweat, the researchers theorized that
"...various persistent pollutants may be excreted through induced dermal depuration (the process of freeing something from impurities) techniques such as sauna therapy, use of steam rooms, or exercise within heated quarters."
They also suggested that calorie restriction diets mobilize phthalates from fatty tissue to skin, and that diets could be used synergistically with sweating to facilitate phthalate elimination.
Chances are, if you're reading this, you already work out, so maybe, just maybe, you're already sweating enough to regularly purge yourself of phthalates. Of course, given that most public gyms are refrigerated within an inch of an Eskimo's life, you might need to bundle up a little to get any kind of a sweat going.
And, as the researchers suggested, saunas and steam rooms would probably work really well in ridding yourself of accumulated phthalates, but you'd have to put up with sitting naked with a bunch of Russian mobsters.
Alternately, you could try to keep from exposing yourself to phthalates in the first place. Here are few things you can do:
- Watch out for phthalates in cans of food. Consider buying canned foods from phthalate-free companies like Trader Joe's, Wild Planet, Eden Foods, and Amy's Kitchen.
- Avoid using pesticides in your yard.
- Remove your shoes when you come in the door so you don't track pesticides and other chemicals into your house.
- Clean and dust surfaces often. Mop the floor regularly. (And don't let Junior crawl around on the floor until you do.)
- Avoid air fresheners, fabric softeners, and personal care products that contain phthalates.
- Don't buy non-stick cookware. Choose cast iron or stainless steel.
- Don't eat microwave popcorn (the lining is suspect).
- Don't store food in plastic containers. Use glass instead.
- Avoid eating foods that come wrapped in plastic.
- Try to buy organic food.
- Don't buy toys made with phthalates. Watch out for words like vinyl or PVC and the #3 recycling code. Watch out for a plasticky smell.
- Avoid stain and water-protecting treatments on furniture and carpets.
- Use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Schwabl P et al. Assessment Of Microplastic Concentrations In Human Stool – Preliminary Results Of A Prospective Study. UEG Week 2018 Oral Presentations. October 21, 2018.
- Genuis SJ et al. Human Elimination of Phthalate Compounds: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:615068. PubMed.