Humans are evolving – but not exactly for the better.
Additives, chemicals and other byproducts of manufacturing have pervaded our day-to-day — but how exactly they affect the human body is still being revealed nearly 50 years after the landmark Toxic Substances Control Act debuted. Recent research has shown that chemicals in the foods we eat, pollution in the air we breathe and toxins in the goods we use on a daily basis are changing our bodies in bizarre ways — from enlarged testicles to “precocious puberty” periods at 9 months old.
Of the more than 40,000 chemicals used in US products, fewer than 1% have been thoroughly tested for human safety, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
So, just about anything we buy and consume — including processed foods, fragrant soaps, non-stick cookware, gas stoves, cosmetics, plastic bottles, paint, haircare and menstrual hygiene products, to name merely a few — have been shown to increase our exposure to harmful agents. But before you rush to raid your pantries, closets and cabinets, the effort to avoid potentially harmful toxins might be futile.
“You can reduce your levels of exposure to these chemicals,” Leo Trasande, an expert in children’s environmental health at NYU Langone Health and author of “Sicker Fatter Poorer,” previously said. “[But] you can’t completely eliminate these exposures because some of them are on our subways, our buses, they’re in environments we can’t control.”
While their prevalence might seem daunting, the American Chemistry Council, Inc., which represents the interests of American chemical companies, told The Post concerned consumers should “feel confident” in the products they buy. The council said such products are overseen by six different federal agencies that ensure the products’ safety. (When also reached for comment, the nonprofit American Chemical Society, which supports scientific inquiry in the field, simply deferred The Post to the ACC’s comments.)
“We support strong science and risk-based regulations that are protective of human health and our environment,” the ACC said in a statement.
Nevertheless, scientists continue to uncover the alarming truth about how everyday foods, goods and products are changing us. Read on to learn how:
The first step to battling mental illness may be to cut out the harms that promote it. Studies have linked ultra-processed foods to depression, suggesting that your Happy Meal might be doing the opposite. Frequenting the junk food aisle has also been linked to impaired memory, cognitive decline and a 25% increased risk of dementia with every 10% climb in junk food intake. Moreover, foods high in sugar and fat appear to make us crave those foods even more — by tapping into the addiction centers of our brains.
Other research suggests the smallest doses of air pollution can have big effects on the brain. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that poor air quality impacted chess players’ abilities to make critical game time choices, while a similar recent study noted that even brief exposure to diesel exhaust decreased “functional connectivity” between nerve cells in the brain.
Eyes & ears
We know that beta-carotene in carrots and other veggies, which converts to vitamin A in the body, is good for the eyes — so much so that the lack thereof can cause blindness. One case study proved as much, linking a teen’s blindness to the patient’s poor diet. In 2019, doctors reported iron and vitamin B12 deficiency — but as years went on, the patient began to lose his ability to see and hear, as a result of cellular nerve damage caused by a severe absence of nutrients.
It’s no secret that poor air quality affects the lungs, but your staple household scents could be doing equal harm. One expert urged regular candle lighters to not blow off her warning: Burning candles releases “particulates” that go “directly to our lungs.”
While the scientific jury’s still out on just how harmful the scented sconces can be, other recent studies have linked chemicals released by popular household cleaners and gas stoves to respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis.
One study to investigate the effects of volatile organic compounds — particularly limonene in citrusy-smelling candles and cleaners — demonstrated that these particles are small enough to “travel deep” into our respiratory system and brain, potentially causing illness, irritation and headaches or contribute to organ damage and cancer diagnosis.
If you thought your gas stove was dangerous, just wait until you find out about “forever chemicals” in your non-stick pans (and countless other products, too). Coated cookware contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), that build up in the body and environment over time (hence “forever”). Now, scientists believe that PFAS could encourage endocrine diseases, and put consumers at 350% greater odds of developing liver cancer.
Beauty is pain – or, in some cases, chronic illness.
Earlier this year, experts discovered that phthalates in popular nail polishes and shampoos, which make the products more elastic and durable, was linked to a 30% to 63% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, a disease affecting blood glucose regulation, in one cohort of study participants. These compounds, detected in over 80% of fast foods, as well as personal care products, packaging, children’s toys and more, are known to disrupt the body’s flow of hormones in the bloodstream.
Trust your gut – the chemicals in your favorite foods could be toxic.
Often found in candies, cakes and even icing, the shocking reality of food coloring is the ultimate party pooper. Scientists now know that dyes used in 90% of US-manufactured foods — Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 — alter cells in the gut and could harm digestive function, potentially leading to the development of Crohn’s disease and colitis.
Meanwhile, the accumulation of microplastics in the body — equal to the weight of one credit card per week on average — can trigger an immune response and activate inflammation, which may pave the way for the growth of cancerous tumors and metabolic diseases.
Penis & testes
If you’ve got BDE, we’ve got potentially bad news. The average penis size in men has increased from 4.8 to 6 inches in just 30 years. As some lucky lads go bananas, experts fear a worrying trend as such a sudden evolutionary shift is not the norm. Research on mice further suggests some popular foods, namely Coca-Cola and Pepsi, boost testosterone and inflate the testicles.
Size indeed matters, but, more pressingly, so does function. A pregnant mother’s regular exposure to PFAS leads to genital defects and decreased sperm production in their future sons. These chemicals, along with phthalate plasticizers and paraben preservatives, are thought to interfere with hormones vital to the development of male sexual organs and sperm mobility, potentially leading to infertility later in life.
Ovaries & uterus
Well, this is just bloody great: Cases of irregular menstrual cycles and early puberty, in girls as young as 9 months old, have surged in recent years, and researchers are pointing fingers at household factors. One study linked the phenomenon to the presence of phthalates, parabens and phenols – oh my! – in popular personal care items. Seen in countless soaps, cosmetics and menstrual products marketed to women, these substances have furthermore been tied to endometriosis and endometrial cancer, hormonal dysfunction and infertility.
The whole body
In addition to shaving years off your life by way of heart disease and obesity, snack staples such as Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats and Cheez-Its are part of the 1,200-some food products that contain tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) and PFAS.
Experts made the bombshell discovery in 2021, also claiming that such compounds, used to extend the shelf life of foods, could alter immune function, leading to increased inflammation and risk of illness.
Earlier this week, experts warned Americans of other commonly used food additives in US products, specifically. Suspected carcinogens such as potassium bromate and titanium dioxide are not considered safe in places such as Europe.