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Given that many modern day containers, utensils, cookwear, clothing,...are coated or composed of types of plastic which are publically recognized as having the ability to transfer\'estrogeni\' chemicals to whatever they come in contact with, is it possible that these 'estrogenic' compounds may be a contributor to decreases in fertility, neurological conditions and obesity in the population as a whole? Could this also be a contributor to a decreased sex-drive in women, given that testosterone is the 'sex-drive hormone'? Thank you for your time.
Question Date: 2015-07-30
Answer 1:

This is a very complicated question to ask, and you are asking if one thing could possibly be a cause for a lot of different things. But there are so many other potential causes! Like others have said, we don’t know yet- but we do know some things. I can imagine if you google information on this topic you’ll be presented with many different claims regarding the effects of BPA or other “estrogenic" compounds found in plastics. A large part of the complication to this topic has been media hype. As a scientist, this frustrates me, but I’ve learned to not believe everything I read. Maybe I can put some of what you may be reading about these compounds into perspective.

Xenoestrogens can be either synthetic of natural chemical compounds that imitate estrogen, like some of the compounds found in plastics, like bisphenol-A (BPA). Some of these are harmful, like DDT, which was used as a pesticide and has had a negative effect on the environment. But are they harmful because of their estrogenic properties?

Did you know that there are natural xenoestrogens, such as phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived? Some foods known to contain phytoestrogens include: soy products, sesame seeds, beans, rice, apples, carrots, pomegranates, wheat germ, coffee, bourbon and beer. In the 1940s, it was noticed that sheep grazing on red cloves, which are rich in phytoestrogens, had an effect on the reproductive rate of these sheep. However, we are not sheep! The metabolic influence is very different between grazing animals and humans; they have multiple stomachs and we just have one. Personally, I’m not going to stop drinking coffee because red clovers had an effect on sheep!

Currently, evidence is lacking whether synthetic xenoestrogens are harmful. In regards to BPA, it currently stands that it could theoretically act like a hormone in a the body. Neurological disorders are slightly more convincing, as the FDA has expressed concern on the effects on the brain and behavior in infants and young children due to the effect it may have on their development. Animal studies show a possible link to cancer. Other conditions don’t seem to have strong evidence.

The list of possible risks can be daunting, but know that nothing has been established. The concern stems primarily from studies in animals, and we are very unlike lab rats! Our activities, the things we consume, and our exposure to various elements are very different from person to person. It’s much harder to make a correlation when there are many possible causes.

Answer 2:

I am not an expert in this field, but my understanding is that the answer to your questions is "it is possible that plastics are causing problems such as you describe, but we are not yet sure."

Answer 3:

I think the only real answer to your question is, "We don't know." Unfortunately that's the strongest answer to a lot of questions about ourselves and our environments.I also think we don't know whether there are actually decreases in fertility or in women's sex drive, or changes in neurological conditions in the population as a whole. I agree that we're increasingly obese, but certainly that's mostly because we eat more calories than we burn, don't you think? We have so much exciting food around and so many exciting sedentary activities to engage in [such as sending and receiving email...] that it doesn't seem surprising that we are getting fatter.

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