Dr. Gates is Talking About...Plastic

July 17, 2023

The following piece was written by Wood River Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Gates and published in the Westerly Sun in June 2023.

Dr. Gates is Talking

My kids told me that July is ‘Plastic Free’ month, and I thought I could do with a few more facts on the topic. Invented in 1907, plastic has revolutionized our lives in more ways that we can easily count. Made of oil that’s chemically bonded to itself and mixed with other chemicals, the invention of plastic was a game changer because it dramatically increased the portability and shelf life of the things we use every day.

Through the 1900s we grew accustomed to using plastics as containers for all kinds of liquids, including water, milk, and Tang – remember the orange ‘Tupperware’? To achieve these heights of usefulness, the process of making plastic often requires a ‘plasticizer’. BPA is an example of a plasticizer – it makes plastic less brittle and allows it to take the shape of molds. Along with other phthalates (Thal-ates), BPA has been found to ‘leach out’ of plastic and is a known ‘endocrine disruptor’.

Endocrine disruptor means it interferes with natural hormones and is thought to concentrate in utero. This can lead to increased risk of pre-term birth, thyroid dysfunction, and vitamin D deficiency. BPA is associated with increased rates of breast and prostate cancer – and ‘BPA-free’ may still have other plasticizers.

Looking for simple changes to protect yourselves and your families from endocrine disrupters? Drink from a glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel container. Store leftover food in glassware. Choose natural fiber clothing when you don’t need the special properties of plastic cloth. And, most importantly, remember that you are your strongest advocate. Become an informed consumer so that you can keep yourself – and your children’s world – healthier.