As I read the about the reminder of the plastic bag ban to go into effect on May 5 in my town, it brought back memories of my post-grad training in functional medicine and how in this paradigm, we are seeking root causes of a lack of wellness and not endpoint disease.
Our present medical system is based on identifying endpoint diseases rather than looking at symptoms and syndromes that lead to these diseases. In the “functional approach”, the quest is to halt the process altogether or at least slow it down. Our country does have excellent emergency medicine however, and it is not appropriate to completely bash the system, but rather to begin to look at how we can create better “health” care systems that focus on prevention.
Back to plastics. As was brought out in the article, we have become a disposable society and as a result, losing convenience will be a tough habit to break. There will be anger, frustration, a lack of ideas about what to do instead, thus the educational component comes into play. Board of Health member, Michelle Gottlieb put it nicely – “It’s creating new habits”, “We have to relearn and reinvent the throwaway society that we have created”, “It won’t happen overnight”. This so rings true in my practice as a nutritionist and wellness consultant. Breaking old habits and creating new ones can be challenging, thus support and education in order to stay focused and motivated is key. I work very hard on establishing and maintaining relationships with my clients to stay focused in the process.
Chemicals found in plastics have known toxins and these are BPA and phthalates. These are known endocrine disruptors, chemicals that show evidence for increasing the incidence of infertility, cancers, malformations in utero, as well as influence on the thyroid, and increasing obesity. Phthalates, known as plasticizers, are found in cosmetics, perfumes, aerosols, paints, lotions, shampoos, nail polish and I could go on, but you get the idea! Our bodies are bombarded in ways that we don’t even think about. Research has shown over 280 chemicals identified in newborn cord blood and of that, 180 cause cancer in humans or animals. Some of these statistics are from the Environmental Working Group.
There are signs and symptoms that may present in a “burdened body” and these include: fatigue, depression, chemical sensitivity, autoimmune disease, headaches, hormonal imbalances, asthma and allergies, and again, I could list more. The challenge with identifying toxic load is that there are so many diffuse symptoms that do not fit into the current model of diagnosis and thus, toxic burden is often overlooked.
What can we do in this challenging environment. First of all, recognize that change is not overnight and begin by learning more about what is in your environment – from food, to the containers it comes in. Second, do an inventory of your “products” – and by this I mean, not only personal hygiene, but cleaning products as well. As an aside, May is Spring cleaning month for me and I just stocked up on my jug of white vinegar for washing walls, appliances etc. Gone are the days of pleasant smelling sprays and scrubs that used to be in the closet.
Check out www.EWG.org, a wonderful resource for listing the safety of foods, personal care, cleaning products and more.
Consider a “functional medicine” consult to review body systems, look at tests that may identify toxic burden and if you choose to embark upon a “detox” or “cleanse”, consult with your practitioner to make sure that your body can handle the three important phases of detoxification.
Lastly, use this plastic bag ban as an opportunity to re-think what is in your environment and consider taking small, deliberate steps to cleaning up the environment for yourself and our planet.