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Food additives found to disrupt hormones

1 April 2009 1,254 views No Comment

News in the past year has focused on concerns that hormone-altering chemicals are leaching into our food via plastic food containers. But bisphenol A, which is found in food containers, the lining of food and soda cans, plastic wrap and baby bottles, may be only one source of chemicals manipulating human hormones and reaching people through food.

A new study reports that at least two chemicals commonly used as food preservatives mimic the hormone estrogen in the human body, according to a story in Environmental Health News. Food additives are completely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Because the FDA does not regulate these chemicals, they are not studied for health effects before being put into the food supply. About 3,000 chemicals are added to the U.S. food supply in the form of preservatives, colorings and artificial flavoring.

“We need to be mindful of these food additives because they could be adding to the total effect of other estrogen mimicking compounds we’re coming into contact with,” said Clair Hicks, a professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, a nonprofit scientific group. “The benefits of using these additives in food need to be weighed against the risks they present,” Hicks said.

The two hormone-altering additives were identified in an Italian study, which looked at 1,500 food additives. Scientists used a computer to evaluate the molecules in these chemicals to see if they had estrogenic molecules that can interact with and modify hormones. 

The first food additive, propyl gallate, is a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling that can be found in a range of foods including baked goods, shortening, dried meats, candy, fresh pork sausage, mayonnaise and dried milk. 

The second additive, 4-hexyl resorcinol, is used to prevent shrimp, lobsters, and other shellfish from discoloring.

The story points to the tie between these new concerns over hormone-altering food additives and the already established concern over bisphenol A.

The FDA’s lack of testing for estrogenic compounds doesn’t stop at additives. In 2008, an independent advisory board said the FDA ignored critical evidence concerning another estrogenic compound, bisphenol A, a plasticizing chemical found in polycarbonate baby bottles and the linings of metal foods cans. 

“What we’ve seen with the FDA’s handling of BPA is that it’s had its head in the sand,” said Renee Sharp, director of the Environmental Working Group’s California office. “If you look at its assessments, what you see is that it has consistently ignored independent science and consistently used outdated methods in its assessments.”

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