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The Link Between Plastic and Fatty Liver Disease

Research links hormone-disrupting chemicals contained in certain plastics to a greater likelihood of metabolic syndrome and a fatty liver.

Unless employed in manufacturing, we generally don’t think about health implications resulting from exposure to industrial chemicals. However, a growing body of research suggests we ought to be more aware of the chemicals we encounter on a regular basis.

Industrial chemicals are required in the manufacture of plastics, and one common type of plastic has been implicated in this generation’s rise in fatty liver disease.

The Rise in Metabolic Syndrome

Over the past decade, the rise in metabolic syndrome has many potential associations, including being linked to products of modern technology. Metabolic syndrome is a broad health condition that includes obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and a fatty liver.

Computers and computer gaming encourages a sedentary lifestyle that fosters obesity, making it an obvious participator in modern technology’s spawning of metabolic syndrome. Additionally and perhaps surprisingly, the hormone-disrupting chemicals found in several types of plastics have also been implicated in metabolic syndrome’s growth.

The manipulation of chemicals to create plastic began well over a century ago. Plastics play a part in nearly every phase of food production and preparation – involved in the journey of food from its processing, preparation, shipping, consumption and storage.

What Is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a type of plastic that has been used in food packaging since the 1960s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insists that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in approved food containers and packaging. Despite this approval, the health consequences of BPA are just starting to be realized.

Bisphenol A is produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins – often used for food and beverage storage. If you purchased a water bottle claiming it is BPA-free on the label, this is the result of studies showing BPA can leach into the food and drink it is in contact with.

Hormone Disruption

One of the primary characteristics plaguing BPA is that it is considered a hormone-disrupting chemical. Hormone-disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects. Hormone-disruptors may:

  1. Mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body and can lead to overstimulation.
  2. Bind to a receptor, which prevents the endogenous hormone from binding.
  3. Block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled.

BPA and Fatty Liver

In the past few years, several studies have demonstrated that exposure to low doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals could raise the risk of developing a fatty liver and other conditions characterized by metabolic syndrome.

  1. As published in a September 2014 edition of The Journal of Endocrinology, researchers determined that perinatal exposure to BPA predisposed offspring to fatty liver disease: the hepatic manifestation of metabolic syndrome.
  2. As published in a February 2014 edition of The Science of the Total Environment, researchers found a strong association between children with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and high levels of BPA in their urine.
  3. As presented in March 2015 at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego, lead researcher Cheryl Lyn Walker, PhD, director of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology shared similar results from her study. According to Walker, brief exposure in infancy to several industrial chemicals that are common in the human environment, particularly Bisphenol A, caused fatty liver disease. Walker said they suspect that “these chemical exposures interfere with the epigenetic ‘programmers’ to do their job. It’s like a glitch on your computer that causes a software program to get installed incorrectly.” This reprogramming of the liver could potentially drive obesity.

How to Reduce Exposure to BPA

Despite these and other studies, the FDA has repeated its previous statements that current BPA exposures are safe. However, the National Institutes of Health’s review voiced some concern about BPA’s effects. A few steps to minimize BPA exposure includes:

  • Choose frozen or fresh foods over canned foods (BPA frequently lines the interior of cans).
  • When possible, breastfeed your baby.
  • Choose powdered baby formula instead of canned baby formula, and pick baby bottles carefully.
  • Avoid bottles and plastic containers that are made from polycarbonate (usually marked with a number 7 or the letters PC).
  • Replace plastic water bottles and food storage containers with glass or metal products.

Based on the growing evidence linking the hormone disruptive properties of BPA to the rise in metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease, the dangers of industrial chemicals is becoming clearer. As we learn more about how our environment impacts our health, it is our responsibility to raise awareness of what could disrupt hormones that renders us more vulnerable to metabolic syndrome and its hepatic manifestation.


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http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors, Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors, Retrieved March 18, 2015, Environmental Working Group, 2015.

http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm064437.htm, Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application, Retrieved March 22, 2015, US Food and Drug Administration, 2015.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24184549, Bisphenol A and cardiometabolic risk factors in obese children, Khalil, N, et al, Retrieved March 18, 2015, The Science of the Total Environment, February 2014.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25112833, Perinatal exposure to bisphenol A exacerbates nonalcoholic steatohepatitis-like phenotype in male rat offspring fed on a high-fat diet., Wei J, et al, Retrieved March 18, 2015, The Journal of Endocrinology, September 2014.

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20150309/Exposure-to-hormone-disrupting-chemicals-can-cause-fatty-liver-disease-promote-obesity.aspx, Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals can cause fatty liver disease, promote obesity, Retrieved March 18, 2015, News-Medical.net, 2015.

http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/, Endocrine Disruptors, Retrieved March 18, 2015, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2015.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960076011001063, Bisphenol A: An endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects, Beverly S. Rubin, Retrieved March 18, 2015, The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, October 2011.

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/cookware-plastics-shoppers-guide-to-food-safety, Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper's Guide to Food Safety, Matthew Hoffman, MD, Retrieved March 22, 2015, WebMD, LLC, 2015.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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