Not Just The Meat
Perhaps even more sinister than the hormones in our foods are chemicals that act like oestrogens (xenoestrogens), that contribute to precocious puberty. “Because these chemicals are found in fertilisers and pesticides, produce is often exposed to these toxic sprays,” says Cape Town-based nutritional therapist Megan Bosman. “Food in plastic packaging can also become dangerous when heated (especially in microwaves), as chemicals are released into the food.”
But according to Balance Your Hormones, two key researchers in the field – Richard Sharpe and D Stewart Irvine – suggest that it may be more pertinent to focus on the huge number of non-pesticide chemicals in the environment. Phthalates, for example, can leach out of plastics, carpets and fabrics into air, rainwater and food. They’re also found in many creams, soaps and perfumes and emanate from cigarette and exhaust fumes.
The dangerously high levels in plastic toys are of particular concern. According to Excessive “Gender-Bending” Chemicals Found in Plastic “Toxic Toys”, published by Greenpeace in 2012, high levels of phthalates can be found in children’s products and toys made from vinyl plastic on the Chinese market. “Phthalates are softeners widely added to plastic materials and are linked to hormone malfunctions and toxicity in the reproductive system.
Children and infants are particularly vulnerable to phthalate exposure,” the article declares.
Another common hormone disruptor is bisphenol A (BPA), found in many canned foods – even those labelled as organic, says Holford. “BPA is used in the manufacture of certain plastics such as drinking bottles, baby bottles and sipper cups, and has been linked to disrupted reproductive development, like precocious puberty in animals.”
Cape Town-based Carol Shaw, owner of online organic food store The Exceptional Foods Consortium, saw the need for a total life overhaul in 2007. “I had a big wake-up call; I was grossly overweight and really ill. Later I found out I was diabetic. My young daughter had been showing signs of precocious puberty and I was worried. I began really looking at what we were eating and how it affected us. The more I read about the hormones and antibiotics being pumped into our food supply, the more horrified I became,” she recalls.
This motivated her to begin sourcing organic produce like free-range chickens from her brother’s farm.
“I started helping him distribute real produce in Cape Town to people who’d actually enjoy the benefits of eating it.
The biggest problem in SA is the fact that mainstream agriculture has farmers by the short and curlies: they either don’t know any better, or are trapped in the system, which produces inferior, unhealthy and – in many cases – deadly food, as the only motivation is profit. Cattle breeds are chosen for attaining the quickest, heaviest weaning weight, with the help of hormones and antibiotics. No thought whatsoever is given to the health of the consumer.”
Shaw’s small online store developed organically. “The business has grown because of demand. People are realising that there are serious issues with our food supply and are looking for better alternatives,” she says.
Logan started her own highly successful online store, the Organic Emporium, in her garage in 2009 as a tiny, one-day-weekly delivery service. “I started writing for the Food Revolution cause, trying to educate people on everything I’d learnt about organic agriculture and the poor state of factory food, and trying to find the best supplies I could from organic farmers. The online service grew very quickly and within four years, we’d moved the business out of home and became a five-day delivery service. We opened our first store in 2014 in the Bryanston Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.”
If a child’s presenting with early puberty symptoms, it’s extremely important for him or her to be medically examined. People can’t simply blame it on diet and the environment
As Logan began interrogating what was really happening to the food being sold to South African consumers, her passion grew. “I became driven to teach others about the dangers of pesticides and chemicals, growth-promoters, antibiotics and the relationship between factory-farmed meat and the rise of metabolic disorders, cancers and allergies. I went on a mission to find organic farms that truly farm free-range animals and feed them on their natural diet without cruelty.”
Although organic food is a far healthier option, the reality is that it’s considerably more expensive – a deterrent for many cash-strapped households. Yet Logan’s message is clear: “When we return to eating nutrient-dense food from farms, rather than factories, farmed by farmers who take care of the earth, we return to a connection with our food that’s joyful and creates health.”
Nevertheless, Segal warns: “If a child’s presenting with early puberty symptoms, it’s extremely important for him or her to be medically examined. People can’t simply blame it on diet and the environment. It may be due to a serious medical condition like an adrenal or pituitary tumour, or an inborn metabolic error.” Other factors which have been linked to precocious puberty include obesity and stress.
Bosman’s tips for making your household safe
- Choose organic produce wherever possible.
- Wash fruit and vegetables before eating (use a vegetable wash, if possible).
- Never microwave or heat plastic (including your child’s milk bottle).
- Avoid plastic containers for food and water.
- Use cleaning products that don’t contain toxins and oestrogen-mimicking compounds.
- Use natural cosmetics such as shampoo, conditioner and deodorants.
- Look for containers which say “BPA-free”.