Pradeep Kumar, a 21-year-old student from Bengaluru, was suffering from excessive hair fall for the past three years. He tried different brands of hair oils and shampoos but to no avail. He then visited Hairline International Research and Treatment Centre (HIRTC) in the city for a solution. “Very high levels of plastic were found in my blood. I used to carry food in a plastic box every day, eat in a plastic plate and have tea in a plastic cup. When They put me on some medications and also asked me to reduce the use of plastic. Now my hair fall has reduced,” says Kumar.
Kumar is not alone. Millions like him use plastic—be it as food containers, tiffin boxes, water bottles or utensils—every day. What they do not know is that extensive use of this material may lead to its presence in blood at an alarming level, leading to health hazards. Medical researchers in Bengaluru have revealed that they have found unacceptable levels of plastic in the blood of patients who were surveyed and studied over a period of one year (2014-15). Nearly, 1,000 patients from urban areas with complaints of hair loss for more than three months were selected as subjects for study, while 500 people from suburban areas with no complaints of hair fall were selected as control groups.
The research was conducted by HIRTC, and working professionals (patients) surveyed were in the age group of 21-45 years, consuming food from plastic containers and vessels at least four to six times a day. They were tested for presence of Bisphenol A (BPA)—an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s—in the blood and the findings were alarming. More than 92 per cent patients had BPA in their blood which causes health problems like hair fall, high cholesterol, variations in HDL levels, high fasting blood sugar, poly cystic ovarian disease
(PCOD), hypothyroidism and high blood pressure.
“With stressful lifestyle, hair fall has become a common problem. When we investigated the causes, it was multi-factorial—right from genetics to hormonal influence, nutrition to life style,” says Dr Dinesh Gowda, senior dermatosurgeon at the centre. Surprisingly, when compared with the control group, most of the patients with hair loss had detectable levels of BPA in their samples. Along with this, an association of hormonal imbalance and abnormal lipid profile was also noticed. “The case history revealed that the subjects were using plastic extensively in their daily activities. This gave us a breakthrough to study effects of BPA on hair loss as this has already been found as endocrine disruptors, increasing the risk of obesity and thyroid disorder,” he says.
The study was confined to Bengalureans. “With higher percentage of the subjects belonging to the IT sector, many had history of using plastic containers to carry their food and water, consuming canned food, having tea or coffee in plastic cups and use of microwave to reheat their food. All these added to the hazards,” says Dr Gowda.
The presence of plastic in blood leads to many a health complications. “Ninety-two per cent of patients with hair loss had high level of BPA. Of this, 35 per cent had high fasting blood glucose and 40 per cent had hypothyroidism. Almost 45 per cent were women who were diagnosed with PCOD. When we started treating their hair loss problem, a few minor changes in their lifestyle to minimise the use of plastics were suggested to them. All this efforts led to improvement and healthy hair,” says Dr Premalatha, dermatologist at the centre.
Advocating changes in one’s life style, Dr Premalatha says a simple step like replacing plastic with steel, glass, porcelain or earthen wares in kitchen can make a big difference in our health. “Always look for recycling codes on bottom of plastic boxes. Those with 7 are polycarbonate plastic which contain BPA. Those with codes 1, 2, 4 and 5 are safe,” she says.
BPA has been banned in a few countries. In 2010, Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance and in March 2010, a temporary ban was declared on BPA by the Health Minister of Denmark. “We too need awareness programmes in India about this,” says Dr Premalatha.