Hippocrates said: “May your food be your medicine!” Yet, today it is clear that in the food we eat there could be elements not contributing to our health but to our sickness. Even though according to the saying that we should not play with our food, undoubtedly we have never done as much playing as we are doing today.
Nowadays, in various ways, many substances make their way into our food which actually are advisable to avoid; among them, some industrial contaminants, pesticide residues, additives, and even substances that may come from their packing materials or from the containers in which food has been cooked or processed. These are substances which, even though not present in high concentration levels, could cause some chronic eﬀects or be harmful in some sensitive periods of life, such as pregnancy or childhood, to name a few.
It is worrisome the fact that many contaminants can alter the hormonal functioning even in very low concentration levels. It is equally worrisome that in the oﬃcial risk tests it has not taken into account the fact that, in everyday situations, we are indeed simultaneously exposed to many diﬀerent substances that could have a ‘cocktail eﬀect’ upon us, since only the risk of being exposed to one isolated substance has been evaluated.
Many contaminants can alter the hormonal balance even though present in very low concentration levels.
Many contaminants which our industrialized society throws into the atmosphere or dumps into the rivers, seas, and soils may end up integrated into the food chains. Some of these substances tend to be very persistent and bioaccumulative and concentrate themselves in increasing levels as they go higher in the food chain (biomagnification).
Among these contaminants there are some particularly worrying the scientific community: dioxins, PBCs, Hexachlorobenzoene, lindane, DDE, heavy metals, flame retarders, etc, some of which enter into our body especially through food.
Quite all of us carry contaminant substances in our bodies. Many scientific studies associate their presence, frequently in “low concentration levels”, with an increase in the risk of experiencing different health problems. For instance, a case that has deserved an especial consideration is that of Mercury found in some species of fish. This even called the attention of the national health authorities; something not as frequent as it should be when it comes to chemical contamination. They advised pregnant women and young children against consuming some particular species of fish which often contain high levels of this heavy metal.
Some data provided by Instituto de Salud Carlos III show that Spanish people have up to 10 times a higher Mercury level in blood than Germans
Analyses made by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) show that half of the samples of fruits and vegetables taken within the European Union evidence the presence of pesticides. In a considerable percentage they found more than one pesticide in a single sample. Even though authorities try to reassure the public opinion by stating that in most of the cases the presence of pesticides does not rise over the normal “legal” limits, the scientific community refutes the reliability of this assertion, especially taking into account that these studies were made by the producers of the pesticides themselves, and not by the most trustworthy academic science. In this way, the present scientific knowledge may have been overviewed by not taking into due consideration the eﬀects which can occur in the hormonal human constitution (sometimes very low concentration levels, much lower than the legal limits), or among other factors, by ignoring the “cocktail eﬀect”.
Children are an important focus group, for they accumulate more pesticide residues and are more sensitive to their eﬀects.
Diverse researches associate the exposure to organophosphorus pesticides during pregnancy with later problems in the mental development after birth. The exposure of the children to the pesticides has been associated to behavioral, motor development and memory disorders. They were also associated, when in “low” concentration levels, with a greater risk of suffering attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A report issued by the prestigious Endocrine Society shows that in the European Union three millions ICQ points in children are lost annually due to exposure to organophosphorus pesticides, whose principal entry door into the human constitution is food. An increase in the risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is likewise linked to such cause.
Still there are some more side effects. For instance, diﬀerent studies associate pesticides with an alteration in male hormones which can be related to a lowered fertility. It was observed that men who consume fruits and vegetables which contain higher pesticide residues have an impaired semen quality with a reduced presence of normal spermatozoa and an increased percentage of abnormal ones. There are some researches that associate these substances with the risk of developing breast cancer, allergies, or an alteration in the gastrointestinal microbiota, etc. They also evidence that an organic diet with a much lesser amount of pesticide residues is linked to a lower risk of experiencing problems such as pre-eclampsia, obesity, diabetes, ear infections, genital malformations in male children, and others.
Kitchen tools and containers
Another worrisome factor represents certain materials coming in contact with the food during its processing, packaging, or preparation from which some undesirable substances may get into the food. For instance, some particular non-stick coatings present in frying pans, such as various perfluorinated compounds have been associated to diverse sanitation problems. The same happens with some aluminum aid tools like aluminum paper. Another element deserving special attention is tin cans, since their inside is often coated with a fine synthetic resin varnish which, according to some scientific studies, can permeate dangerous substances into the food, such as bisphenol A (BPA) – probably the most studied of all hormonal pollutants – this one being capable of inducing effects even in very low concentration levels, as countless studies conclude. Substances such as phthalates or bisphenol A can permeate through plastic containers and packing, especially when food is being heated in them, as also through recycled materials like paper or cardboard.
Food additives are substances used to enhance color, smell, or taste in order to make food production and preservation easier. There are natural additives, such as salt, and there are others much more frequently applied which are not so natural. These are synthetic additives which are used as colorants, antioxidants, taste and smell enhancers, sweeteners, emulsifiers, preservers, etc. There is a widespread mistrust about the beneficial eﬀects of such substances. In general, there is little public awareness about the meaning of the terms used on labels to help their identification.
Much has been published about the counterproductive eﬀects that some additives can have when present alone or in combination with other substances. Some of these can be allergies, asthma, eczema, hypersensitivity reactions, hyperthyroidism, renal and hepatic damages, anemia, digestive irritations, decalcification, avitaminosis, headaches, urticaria, cancer, etc. There are some guides (various even available on the internet) that allow us to gather some information.
Among the reported dubious additives as linked to mild or severe health affections, we can find the following:
Solid yellow (E105), Orange yellow S (E110), Yellow 2G (107), Tartrazine (E102), orange GGN (E111), Azorubine (E122), Amaranth (E123), Scarlet GN (E125), Ponceau 6R (E126), Erythrosine (E127), Red 2G (128), Anthraquinone blue (E130), Patent blue V (E131), Brilliant acid green (E142), Brown FK (154), Benzoic acid (E210), Sodium benzoate (E211), Ethylparaben (E214), Propylparaben (E216), Methylparaben (E218), Sodium metabisulfite (E223), Biphenyl (E230), Alkylphenol (E231), Tiabendazole (E233), Hexamethylenetetramine (E239), Boric acid (E240), Potassium nitrite (E249), Butylated hydroxyanisole or BHA (E320), Butylated hydroxytoluene or BHT (E321), and many others.
The present-day awareness that processed food can contain noxious substances (be them contaminants themselves or additives) is itself a good ground to adopt measures tending to avoid or restrict their use.
Without incurring in any unnecessary and counterproductive alarmism, it is but necessary to adopt, as far as possible, healthy eating habits like taking as much natural and less processed food as we can find; food with a lesser amount of strange added substances, or food that, due to its production methods, stands a poor chance of containing them. Opting for organic food seems to be the wisest and soundest way to do so. In the case of persistent substances, it is better to shorten the food chain by taking more vegetables. In short, we should find out about the different ways to avoid or reduce our exposure to toxic substances.