Two Common Preservatives May Have Hormone Disrupting Effects – Should We Be Concerned?

baby in nestYou may have heard about bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate plastic and canned foods and beverages and know that it is of concern because it appears to be a hormone disruptor.

Your probably know that phthalates in personal care and cleaning products are also linked to hormone disrupting effects.

But do you ever wonder what other compounds in our food and consumer products have hormone disrupting effects?  And how all these compounds work together, or if they do?  

So, what are hormone disruptors?  The endocrine system releases hormones which are chemical messengers.  They are received by receptors which then act on the message received.  Endocrine disruptors interfere with this chemical messenger system, disrupting the messenger. 

If we are exposed to many different endocrine disruptors, what is the effect?  And how many are we exposed to?  Does it matter?  

study published in December found two common food additives had estrogenic effects in the lab got me wondering about it, and I’m still working on it.  And before I tell you about the study, this study does NOT show that the two compounds have estrogenic effects in laboratory animals or humans – the study involved studying the compounds in cultures.  Okay, so this study found that propyl gallate and 4-hexyl resorcinal both showed estrogenic activity in laboratory cultures.  Propyl gallate is a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling.  It is found in all sorts of foods, including baked goods, shortening, dried meats, candy, mayonnaise and dried milk. 4-hexyl resorcinol, is used to prevent shrimp, lobsters, and other shellfish from discoloring. 

The researchers caution that further studies on laboratory animals must be conducted before any conclusions can be reached.  Effects shown in the laboratory do not always mean that any effect will be seen in laboratory animals or humans. 

But, following the controversy surround the No More Toxic Tub report from the Environmental Working Group, I’m even more concerned about the combined effects of the numerous chemicals.  Paul Foster, deputy director of the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, was reported as expressing concern over the mixtures of estrogenic compounds.  “There are examples where you can take dose levels of compounds on their own that won’t produce an effect, but when you put these compounds together, you may get something different,” he said. 

What I found more alarming was the report that 
“Foster said people should keep in mind that they already ingest significant numbers of fairly potent estrogens in their diets by consuming foods like tofu and milk, so findings like these shouldn’t necessarily scare people until more research has been conducted.” 
What scared me was not his focus on understanding the context of the research, but the seeming benign statement that it is okay becdause we already ingest “significant numbers of fairly potent estrogens.”
Okay, so perhaps I should take comfort in that – perhaps there isn’t much risk from the preservatives, especially since there are naturally occurring compounds that have estrogenic activity (phytoestrogens).
Yet, the FDA’s record of protecting us does not give me comfort.  For example, the FDA has continued to fail to act on BPA, another hormone disruptor, used in food contact storage containers such as baby bottles and the linings of virtually all canned foods and beverages.  In 2008, the FDA was criticized by the FDA Science Advisory Board, an independent advisory board, for ignoring critical evidence in determing the safety of BPA. 
 So, I’m not reassured.  I remained concern about not only the impact to me and my children, but how these chemicals will affect future generations.  And how we don’t seem to really know all of the sources of exposure to these compounds.  So, I’ll keep trying to limit exposure to those hormone disruptors that I know about, and for which there are alternatives available.  Instead of polycarbonate plastic, I’ll use stainless steel or glass.  Instead of canned foods, I’ll use fresh, frozen, dried or jarred.  Instead of phthalates, I’ll look for products without phthalates, meaning no synthetic fragrances.  I’ll do the best I can. 
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