Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Phthalates and Other Compounds Lead to Infertility

Infertility is a common problem for many couples trying to conceive in the U.S., and statistics show that 1 out of 10 couples will have trouble becoming pregnant at some point.  Recent evidence suggests that this struggle with infertility can be exacerbated by chemical compounds called hormone disruptors in our environment. When in the body these hormone disruptors act like naturally occurring hormones, including sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and can disrupt normal body functions.

From previous research, we already know of several such hormone disruptors that impact fertility including bisphenol A (BPA), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), pesticides, and PCBs.  The newest culprit to join this group is phthalates.  Phthalates are chemicals found in plastics, personal care products, and a variety of building materials and are used to add flexibility, transparency, and durability.  They also have the unfortunate side effect of contributing to infertility.  In women, phthalates can lead to endometriosis, which is a condition related to infertility.  In men, phthalates can lower testosterone levels, leading to lowered sperm quality.

A recent study in Italy examined the levels of phthalates in the urine of couples unsuccessfully attempting to conceive and couples who had recently had children in an effort to determine the impact of phthalates.  Fifty-six couples participated in the study.  After examining the data, the researchers found that the couples who were not yet able to conceive had three to five times higher levels of phthalates in their urine compared to those couples who were able to conceive naturally.   

Because of their properties, phthalates are everywhere in our environment and can be hard to avoid.  However, there are several things we can do to help cut phthalates, and other chemical compounds that impact fertility, out of our lives.  Here are some tips on avoiding hormone disruptors and increasing your family:

·         Out with the old plastic, in with the new glass!  Throw out your old and used plastic containers and replace them with glass containers, that way you avoid phthalates and BPA in one fell swoop!

·         Toss the vinyl products, including faux leather and shower curtains.

·         Invest in stainless steel and cast iron.  Your food will taste better and you will avoid the chemical PFOA used in nonstick pans.

·         Go organic!  Organic fruits and veggies won’t have harmful pesticides on them.  Buying organic personal products such as shampoo, soaps, and lotion will also help you avoid phthalates.

~ Jessica


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vitamins: A Cautionary Tale

Do you take any vitamins or supplements?  I do, and given the statistics I list next, sounds like I’m not the only one.

According to survey data collected between 2003 and 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 53% of Americans take some sort of supplement.  This is percentage is up from 40% during their previous data collection between 1988 and 1994. 

The marked increase in the percentage of Americans taking supplements can be attributed to several recent supplement fads.  Over the last few years it has become very popular for medical professionals to recommend high doses of vitamin D and E.  Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University is one such advocate for high doses of vitamin D.  “There’s overwhelming evidence…that increasing your vitamin D intake can make substantial improvement in your overall health and welfare,” he explains, “and there is no downside to increasing your vitamin D intake.”  Not only does Dr. Holick argue that high levels of vitamin D will lessen one’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis (which is agreed upon in the scientific community), but he posits that vitamin D may decrease instances of cancer, heart attack, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes (both types), autism, and even the flu. 

Sounds like a pretty necessary vitamin based on Dr. Holick’s evidence, but it is endorsements like these that lead to the dramatic increase in vitamin intake noted by the CDC. 

Contrary to Dr. Holick’s opinion, there are those who doubt the “overwhelming evidence” of the importance of vitamin D.  Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital points out that nearly all of the studies involving vitamin D are “observational” studies.  Rather than the ideal “experimental” design involving randomized trail groups, “observational” studies simply find people with low and high levels of vitamin D and correlate those levels with the participants’ overall health.  The problem with these studies is that there are many other potential variables not accounted for.  For example, those with high levels of vitamin D could be healthier because they get in the sun and exercise more, and those with low levels of vitamin D could be unhealthy because of bad eating habits…not just because of vitamin D levels.  “We don’t yet have the large-scale, randomized clinical trials showing benefits in terms of prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cognitive decline, depression, autoimmune disease,” Manson explains.  To further her claim, there are “observational” studies on vitamin D that suggest that large doses may not actually help you.

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board, which makes official recommendations on dietary intake, says that advocates of high doses of vitamin D are overstating the effectiveness of the vitamin.  Dr. Manson, who is also one of the 14 panel members at the Institute of Medicine, explains their decision to only slightly increase the recommended daily dose of vitamin D compared to the huge increases some are advocating: “The evidence was inconsistent and inconclusive as to a benefit of vitamin D in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and many other health outcomes beyond bone health.” 

A similar story can be told for another recently popular vitamin: vitamin E.  Past studies have suggested that high doses of vitamin E could help prevent prostate cancer.  However, a new study testing this conclusion found that vitamin E may actually increase the risk of prostate cancer.  What’s more, this new study is the largest such study to test the relationship between vitamin E and prostate cancer using randomized clinical trials.

The fact is that we do not yet have definitive information on the benefits and risks of taking large doses of various vitamins.  In the upcoming years it will be important to keep up with new research on this subject, rather than prescribing to a fad.  It would also be a good idea to take a deeper look at your vitamin jars at home.  The multivitamins we take often have much higher percentages of various vitamins than the daily recommended dose, and if your multivitamin contains a high dose of vitamin E, men should consider changing multivitamins.

Often times we turn to supplements for a quick fix.  We hope that they will prevent disease, make us healthier, and maybe even make up for some of our less than healthy habits.  Unfortunately, we are still uncertain whether large doses of some vitamins will help us, hurt us, or make no difference at all.  Until we have more information, I would suggest slowly adopting healthier eating habits that will supply you with all of the nutrients you need. 

~ Jessica


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Obesity in America and Obesogens

Obesity rates in the United States have been on the rise for over 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution that brought us away from farms and into factories.  However, in recent decades obesity in America has become more of an epidemic.  Currently, about one-third of adults are obese and about 17% of children are obese, and in 1985 no state had a recorded obesity rate higher than 14%.  Check out this animated map from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for a visual representation of this change over the last 25 years.
This epidemic has been mainly attributed to poor diet and a lack of exercise, but recent research has pointed toward a third factor: obesogens.  Obesogen is the name given to a category of chemical compounds that have been shown to contribute to weight gain in children and adults.  Included on this list are bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  All of three of these compounds are commonly used in some household items, including kitchen utensils and cookware.

Research on these and other obesogens suggests that different compounds may act differently in our bodies to produce the same result: excess weight.  For example, some compounds affect the number of fat cells, some the size of fat cells, and others affect hormones that control appetite, satiety, metabolism, and even food preferences!

BPA is an obesogenic compound that actually reduces the number of fat cells in humans; however, it programs the remaining individual fat cells to become much larger.  Infants who are exposed to BPA in the womb may be born underweight because of this effect, but eventually the child may put on weight because of enlarged fat cells.

Phthalates, another set of obesogens, are a group of compounds commonly used in plastics to make them more flexible and durable.  Recent studies have shown that increased levels of these compounds are linked to increased weight around the abdomen and a resistance to insulin.

Lastly, PFOA is a compound that potentially acts as an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with our hormones, affecting our appetite, metabolism and more.  This compound lowers the surface tension of liquid, so it is used in nonstick cookware such as Teflon. 

With genetics and our cultural habits stacked against us, the last thing we need is an environment filled with obesogens.  To cut these compounds out of your environment you can start by taking the following steps:

·         BPA is found in the lining of some canned food and plastic food containers.  To reduce BPA exposure in your kitchen get rid of these items by buying fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned, and switch to glass food containers.

·         Phthalates are also found in some food packaging and containers.  Yet another reason to switch to glass!

·         PFOA is used in nonstick cookware.  To avoid this compound switch to cast ironand stainless steel cookware.   These products produce a better cooked meal and healthier food!

~ Jessica


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Green, Eco-Friendly Wedding Ideas from

Essential Safe Products (ESP) is committed to helping families live a healthy and non-toxic lifestyle in the kitchen and on-the-go as well as promoting a healthy and sustainable environment. Non-toxic and eco-friendly lifestyle choices are applicable in many aspects of one’s life, including a wedding, so ESP has put together a list of eco-friendly wedding ideas to give couples creative inspiration.
Plantation, Florida (PRWEB) March 01, 2012
Essential Safe Products (ESP), a website dedicated to helping families make healthier and non-toxic lifestyle and environmental choices, has put together a list of green , eco-friendly wedding ideas to help others get inspiration for incorporating environmental sustainability into a wedding.

Planning a wedding gives couples the freedom to explore creativity, inspiration, and tradition that brings together one of the most celebrated moments in their lives. Wedding ideas, themes, and decorations are endless, so one thing to keep in mind is to create a concept that stays true the couple. Coming up with a broad concept is a great way to start the wedding planning process because it will be a solid foundation to all the little details that come up throughout the detailed process.

“I’m getting married in less than two weeks, and because wedding, wedding, wedding is always on my mind right now, I thought it would be great to share some eco-friendly wedding ideas to others planning a wedding! I have incorporated some of these ideas into our wedding, and just a few small eco-adjustments to a wedding can have a huge and positive impact on a healthy environment,” says Hannah Masimore, President of ESP.

For those interested in planning a green, eco-friendly wedding, ESP has put together a list of some green wedding ideas that can easily be incorporated into any wedding.

1. Invitations: Search for PCW or recycled paper wedding invitations. Many companies now have this type of paper an option, and the designs are just as beautiful. An even more environmentally friendly idea is to send out online invitations.

2. The Dresses: For the bridal gown, many designers are now creating hemp wedding dresses or organic fabric wedding dresses—both options that are more environmentally friendly than traditional wedding gowns. For bridesmaid dresses, a great, sustainable idea is to donate the dresses that they may “never wear again” to a charity.

3. Wedding Favors: Couples can get very creative when it comes to deciding how to thank their guests for attending the wedding. One eco-friendly idea is to give a take-home slice of the wedding cake in a recycled paper cake box wrapped in jute or hemp ribbon and accompanied by a reusable bamboo spork. The bamboo spork is great novelty gift that guests can use time and time again. A couple of other ideas for favors is to donate to a charity in honor of each guest or give each guest a seed to plant.

4. Wedding Rings: Search for jewelers who use recycled metals and conflict-free diamonds.

5. Decorations: Instead of using plastic straws or trendy striped paper straws, think about incorporating stainless steel straws or glass straws. They are reusable and great take-home gifts for guests. Another eco-friendly idea for decorations is to use organic flowers throughout the wedding d├ęcor and in bouquets.

About Essential Safe Products (ESP)
Susan Masimore, mother of 6 children, started ESP because she wanted to spread the word about toxins and give families a place where they can confidently purchase non-toxic products for the kitchen and on-the-go. Through ESP’s website, families can learn about the toxic chemicals, find tips and tricks on how to avoid exposure to toxins in food and drink, and purchase kitchen and on-the-go products that are non-toxic and food safe. ESP is dedicated to promoting healthy and non-toxic lifestyles for families as well as a healthy environment.
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