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It’s strange how often accidents and mistakes lead to major scientific discoveries and the theme of this article is no exception. In 1998, a university researcher in Ohio was using mice to study the effect of aging on genes. She was surprised to see the control group of mice suffering as much cell damage as the test group which was exposed to different stimuli. After much effort, she proved the cell damage was being caused by Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to harden the plastic of their cages. Your reaction is probably, “So what?” Well, a cell is a cell whether it’s in a mouse or a human. BPA is one of the most common chemicals in the world. It’s no exaggeration to say that everything you pick up or touch with plastic in it has BPA in it. For example, it’s in the fillings in your teeth and, in a transparent form, it lines cans and containers used for food and drinks. Because of this, you have BPA in your blood stream. It’s almost impossible to avoid it unless you only eat organic food untouched by plastic packaging and drink water from the well sold in glass bottles. Worse, in most countries, it’s in the bottles used to feed babies. The majority of scientists now believe the rising tide of behavioral problems in the young and the incidence of cancers, heart disease and reproductive problems including infertility and erectile dysfunction in adults is caused by this chemical.
Then come the phthalates. Whereas BPA strengthens and hardens plastic, the phthalates make it rubbery and bendy. You find it in furniture, shoes, etc. There’s increasingly clear evidence this is affecting male hormones and, across the age range, is producing penis birth defects, low sperm counts, erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer. Put another way, throughout our lives, we are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals in what we eat and drink. How much damage is this doing? Well, animal tests suggest the long-term damage to humans could be serious. But, because of the code of ethics imposed on researchers, there are no clinical trials. It’s unethical to deliberately inject large numbers of human participants with potentially harmful chemicals.
So where does this leave us? Scientists prefer to apply what’s called the precautionary principle. If you have evidence suggesting the risk of harm, you stop whatever you are doing until there is evidence to show the risk is acceptably low. Politicians prefer not to upset the big vested interests and the lobbying power of the plastics industry is very influential. Here’s the result. Ten years ago, Japan ordered the removal of BPA from all products used by babies and children, and limited its use in cans. Canada and France forbid the use of BPA in baby bottles. In the US, the FDA is finally assessing the scientific evidence and sale of BPA bottles has been banned in Chicago, Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin. This leaves the phthalates unregulated and human beings continue to be used in a planet-wide clinical trial to determine the extent of the long-term damage caused by these chemicals. One of the first signs of damage comes as more younger men now experience erectile dysfunction and low levels of fertility. Although levitra goes some way to maintaining erectile function, it cannot solve the problem of low sperm count. As a final irony, we note levitra, along with almost every drug on the market, is usually supplied in plastic packaging.