The Indian Summer bestows us with stupendous vistas. It has to do with the light: the air brings a quality it didn’t have in July or August, with a poetic lair of mist after sunrise, and warm colors in late afternoon. For those of us that like to gather mushrooms, it’s the best time of the year: the porcinis, the chanterelles, the black trumpets are sprouting. I love it! Of course we are aware that mushrooms tend to aggregate whatever pollution is in the environment, but our forests are healthy, the soils rich in living humus, and the air feels clean. We wouldn’t think about eating mushrooms from places with polluted soils or radioactive fallouts… and yet, we are much less regarding when it comes to other pollutants that get into or close to our bodies.
Don’t mess with babies
Plastic is not chemically inert. Indeed, plastics contain a whole variety of additives used to enhance their properties. Those additives are small molecules, much smaller than the polymers that make up the bulk of the material. As they are loosely dispersed in the polymer matrix, it also means that they can leave their plastic host quite easily, and find their way to whatever is next to it: liquids, food, or your skin.
Endocrine disruption started to find its way in the news after the year 2000, when it became known that Bisphenol A, an extremely widely used plastic additive also present in baby bottles, had been found in the adipose tissues of infants.
Endocrine disruptors are molecules that can hijack our endocrine system by mimicking natural hormones our body produces. Those hormones travel through our organs until they encounter a receptor to which they can bind. This triggers a signaling cascade that will in turn regulate the expression of certain genes. As these endocrine disruptors are able to bind to the same receptors as their hormonal counterparts, they can uncontrollably activate or deactivate the expression of DNA, the very code of our cells.
The (endo)crime of the century ?
As a matter of fact, many diseases related to hormonal dysfunction started to appear as plastic gradually became part of our everyday life during the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays, a number of plastic additives have been identified to be directly associated with endocrine disruption. They can be strong endocrine disruptors even at very low doses, and may cause a whole variety of diseases, such as reproductive health disorders, cancers and obesity.
Everyday chemicals do not undergo the level of evaluation for harm that pharmaceuticals and food additives do. This is also true for cosmetics that are meant to penetrate the skin. I do however notice that for lotions and creams, people tend to read the labels carefully and are quite sensitive to what is in the product. Not so much for the synthetic fibers that make out their clothes.
We seem to be much less careful about that, even with the first layer of garments, the one in direct contact with our epidermis. But if you visualize the friction between your skin and that first layer as you jog or hike or bike, you can easily imagine what is going on at a microscopic level.
With my heightened awareness about this problem, I tried to find out what additives were applied to which synthetic garments. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success: there is simply no information at all on the labels. And even on the manufacturers’ web pages, it is impossible to find that out.
Keep it simple
The way I deal with this? I use the same principle as for my food: simple, natural, biologically pure products will always work well and taste good. I will head for the woods on that mushroom gathering wearing something I know is healthy for my skin. Wool, cotton or silk. And to cook what I was lucky enough to find, the only additives I will use are organic butter, shallots, and parsley. The perfect autumn feast!