Whether eating out is an occasional treat or a regular event from fast food meals you may not be aware of just how much your hormones may be being affected.
The figures below are from a US study, but they are more than likely to be just as applicable to the UK. They looked at the chemical risks of eating out and for once not related to the usual ‘culprits’ such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other such conditions.
The study was published in the journal Environment International and relates to a chemical I have often commented on before, and that is phthalates.
What are phthalates?
They are a group of chemicals commonly found in food packaging and other materials used in food processing. They are often added to plastics to increase their flexibility, durability, and transparency.
Given the current concerns over all forms of plastic damaging the environment, here I am more concerned with how they affect women and their hormones.
Phthalates are colourless and odourless, they ensure that a plastic product continues to do its job for up to 50 years – which is certainly part of the current concern about them and the damage to the oceans and landfills.
Unfortunately, there are many ways that they may find their way into your food. For instance, they are present in takeout boxes, plastic gloves, and a range of food processing equipment that might be used at restaurants or take away outlets.
How do they affect us?
What they also have is the potential to cause upheaval in the human body, in particular, phthalates are thought to disrupt hormones.
While the exact effects of long-term exposure are unclear, they seem to negatively impact the reproductive system of animals and possibly humans.
Because phthalates have the potential to interfere with metabolic processes, some scientists have even wondered whether they might play a role in the current obesity epidemic.
The latest study to investigate phthalates in humans was led by Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Julia Varshavsky, Ph.D., from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.
In a previous study, the same team of phthalate investigators found that those who ate the highest quantities of fast food had phthalate levels up to 40 percent higher than those who ate fast food less frequently.
For this report into food chemicals, the scientists assessed whether eating out in general (not just fast food) would have the same impact.
They took data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 10,253 participants who were asked about their food consumption in the past 24 hours — more specifically, whether it had been home-cooked or eaten out.
This study is the first to compare phthalate exposure in people who dine out and those who eat home-cooked meals. If you are someone who eats more restaurant, cafeteria, and fast food meals than home-cooked then your phthalate levels are going to be considerably higher than average.
The effect on women
High levels of phthalates are definitely linked to hormonal problems including fertility, pregnancy complications, and other health issues.
Women are subject to their hormones from puberty to well post menopause but at peak times such as when trying for a family, or at menopause, we are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Diet is always important when balancing hormones, as it helps reduce stress and obesity so it’s important to find ways to limit their exposures.
What you eat may make a critical difference to your hormone balance but if you are a burger lover – particularly cheeseburgers -then the survey found they were associated with 30 percent higher phthalates in people of all ages.
Hormone disruptors are not new, one of the most common is seen in the effects of oestrogen dominance. When oestrogen is not balanced by progesterone then the result can be serious as it can increase the risk for hormonal cancers and certainly affect blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.