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  More and more studies are finding negative health effects from hormone disrupting chemicals (which we are exposed to every single day, and subsequently which are in all of us), such as parabens, phthalates, Bisphenol-A (BPA), and chemical substitutes for BPA such as Bisphenol-S (BPS) and BPF. The following are a few recent studies and one article from my files. Also check out the other endocrine disrupting chemical studies I've posted (SEARCH: 'endocrine disruptors', and 'phthalates').

Bottom line: Read labels and try to minimize plastics in personal care products (e.g., lotion) and your food if possible (e.g., choose glass, stainless steel, wax paper, aluminum foil). This is especially important during pregnancy.  Even BPA alternatives (labeled BPA-free) should be viewed as the same as BPA - as endocrine disruptors. In other words, currently there are no good BPA substitutes. Don't microwave food in a plastic dish or container, or covered with plastic wrap. Eat fresh foods rather than packaged, processed foods. From Newsweek:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask. BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to....The use of BPA has continued to grow in the past few decades. As of 2012, 10 billion pounds of the material were produced worldwide, with a total estimated 2013 market value of more than $13 billion....Every day, the manufacture and sale of BPA brings in tens of millions of dollars.

But scientists suggest that might be offset by a large, hidden cost: its impact on human health. To date, there have been around 1,000 animal studies on BPA, and the vast majority show that it causes or is linked to many health problems, from alterations in fertility to increased risk for cancers and cardiovascular problems to impaired brain development, says Frederick vom Saal, a longtime researcher of the product at the University of Missouri-Columbia. For that reason, scientists have conducted about 100 human epidemiological studies to look at the patterns of health and disease in real-life settings. These too show a correlation between exposure to BPA and the aforementioned ailments.

Scientists are particularly worried about exposure to the developing fetus and infants. When the fetal brain is first developing, it is most vulnerable to endocrine disruptors like BPA, research has shown. And animal studies have suggested early exposure to BPA has a significant impact on the brain and other organs. Some epidemiological research does too. Brown University epidemiologist Joseph Braun, for example, has shown a link between early childhood exposure to BPA and later behavioral problems....Several dozen studies in the past five years or so have found average human blood serum levels of BPA in the low range, around 1 part per billion (ppb). Many of the negative health effects in animal studies have been shown to occur at these levels, says Laura Vandenberg, who researches endocrine disruptors at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

....the American Chemistry Council—a trade group that represents companies that manufacture chemicals like BPA. The council has funded other studies on BPA, and they’ve all concluded that the chemical has no harmful effects. One 2006 analysis by vom Saal and Wade Welshons showed that 11 out of 11 industry-funded studies found BPA had no significant action, while 109 of 119 studies that had no industry funding (92 percent) did find effects of BPA.....“I think there’s a strong influence among the chemical industries and their lobbyists—they have the money and time,” Gore says, adding that researchers have very little of both. In 2013, for example, the American Chemistry Council spent more than $11 million on lobbying expenses, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Industry groups have also funded, and in some cases written up, research done by governmental scientists. One 2008 investigation, by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, found that “a government report claiming that bisphenol-A is safe was written largely by the plastics industry and others with a financial stake in the controversial chemical.”

Despite the FDA’s continued support of BPA, the chemical is already being replaced on the market due to consumer concerns—but with substances such as bisphenol-S that behave similarly, and may even be worse in some ways.

From News-Medical: Chemicals used in plastics linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes in children and adolescents

According to a new series of studies out of NYU Langone Medical Center, two chemicals increasingly used during manufacturing to strengthen plastic wrap, soap, cosmetics, and processed food containers have been linked to a rise in risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in children and adolescents.The compounds, di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), are both in a class of chemicals known as phthalates. Ironically, the two chemicals were used as replacements for another chemical, di-2-ethylhexylphlatate, or DEHP, which the same researchers proved in previous research to have similar adverse effects.

From Environmental Health News: BPA linked to low birth weights in baby girls

Girls born to mothers with high levels of BPA in their system during the first trimester of pregnancy weigh less at birth than babies with lower exposure, according to a new studyThe study adds to evidence that fetal exposure to the ubiquitous chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) may contribute to fetal developmental problems....Bottom line: more BPA in woman’s blood meant babies weighed less. For every doubling in free, or unconjugated, BPA in the mothers’ first-term blood, babies weighed, on average, 6.5 ounces less. 

A study released this month out of China found BPA levels in mothers’ urine was linked to low birth weights. That study also found a much stronger association with baby girls.

From Science Daily: Phthalates potentially alter levels of a pregnancy hormone that influences sex development

Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates -- which are found in many plastics, foods and personal care products -- early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to new research. The findings focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone.

From Environmental Health Perspectives:  Vinyl flooring chemical linked to high blood pressure during pregnancy

Pregnant? Beware of the vinyl flooring. Chemicals often used in vinyl flooring and PVC may make pregnant women more susceptible to heart diseases, according to a new study. It builds on other studies that concluded that certain phthalates, also found in plastics, cosmetics, fragrances and—by extension, most of us—may impact heart health. The researchers looked at phthalate levels in the urine of 369 pregnant women during their pregnancy. They also monitored blood pressure and any pregnancy-induced heart problems. The body breaks down phthalates into metabolites. Researchers found that women with the highest levels of a common phthalate metabolite were almost three times as likely to have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure than women with the lowest levels.

Image result for dark chocolate So far all the studies I've seen in the past 2 years about cocoa and chocolate have found various beneficial health effects from regularly eating small amounts of cocoa and chocolate. Now 2 new studies found benefits from the flavanols found in cocoa beans and chocolate. The studies found that consuming cocoa flavanols lowers blood pressure, increases flow-mediated vasodilation,improves blood cholesterol profile, and that regular dietary intake may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, note that chocolate and cocoa contain other compounds besides flavanols and these may also be exerting positive effects.

So now the question becomes, which chocolates have high levels of flavanols? Modern processing removes some of the flavanols - in fact, the more it undergoes processing, the more flavanols are lost. But it appears that dark chocolate and cocoa that has not undergone Dutch processing is best. According to a Medscape article on cocoa flavanols: "Traditional processing methods that yield "modern chocolate," especially alkalinization (dutching or Dutch processing, to mellow flavor), strips flavanols from cocoa. The bitterness from cacao mostly comes from flavanols. With the emerging recognition of the beneficial effects of flavanols there has been a shift in commercial production towards chocolate forms with high flavanol content." A recent study by Consumer Lab, which compared flavanol levels across many cocoa and chocolate products, also found that some chocolate brands were contaminated with cadmium (a toxic heavy metal), but that cocoa nibs had significantly lower levels. At any rate, the medical evidence does not support gorging on chocolate, but instead consuming chocolate or cocoa in moderation. From Science Daily:

Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people

Two recently published studies in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) demonstrate that consuming cocoa flavanols improves cardiovascular function and lessens the burden on the heart that comes with the aging and stiffening of arteries. The studies also provide novel data to indicate that intake of cocoa flavanols reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and less able to expand to let blood flow and circulate normally, and the risk of hypertension also increases. Arterial stiffness and blood vessel dysfunction are linked with cardiovascular disease -- the number one cause of deaths worldwide....Cocoa flavanols are plant-derived bioactives from the cacao bean. Dietary intake of flavanols has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health but the compounds are often destroyed during normal food processing. Earlier studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanol intake improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure....These two studies in Age and BJN are the first to look at the different effects dietary cocoa flavanols can have on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Cocoa flavanols increase blood vessel flexibility and lower blood pressure - In the study published in Age, two groups of 22 young (<35 years of age) and 20 older (50-80 years of age) healthy men consumed either a flavanol-containing drink, or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for two weeks. The researchers then measured the effect of flavanols on hallmarks of cardiovascular aging, such as arterial stiffness (as measured by pulse wave velocity), blood pressure and flow-mediated vasodilation (the extent to which blood vessels dilate in response to nitric oxide). They found that vasodilation was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols over the course of the study (by 33% in the younger age group and 32% in the older age group over the control intervention). In the older age group, a statistically and clinically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure of 4 mm Hg over control was also seen.

Improving cardiovascular health and lowering the risk of CVD - In the second study, published in BJN, the researchers extended their investigations to a larger group (100) of healthy middle-aged men and women (35-60 years) with low risk of CVD. The participants were randomly and blindly assigned into groups that consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for four weeks.

"We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health," says Professor Kelm. In particular, the researchers found that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%. Increased flow-mediated vasodilation is a sign of improved endothelial function and has been shown by some studies to be associated with decreased risk of developing CVD. In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), decreasing LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and increasing HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L).

The researchers also calculated the Framingham Risk Score -- a widely used model to estimate the 10-year cardiovascular risk of an individual -- and found that flavanol intake reduced the risk of CVD. "Our results indicate that dietary flavanol intake reduces the 10-year risk of being diagnosed with CVD by 22% and the 10-year risk of suffering a heart attack by 31%," says Professor Kelm.

The combined results of these studies demonstrate that flavanols are effective at mitigating age-related changes in blood vessels, and could thereby reduce the risk of CVD in healthy individuals. The application of 10-year Framingham Risk Scores should be interpreted with caution as the duration of the BJN study was weeks not years and the number of participants was around 100, not reaching the scale of the Framingham studies. That being said, Professor Kelm comments that "the reduction seen in risk scores suggests that flavanols may have primary preventive potential for CVD."

A nice summary article about the benefits and risks of coffee consumption. Summary of effects of drinking coffee1) May potentially increase blood pressure, but also may lower the risk for coronary disease, and protect against heart disease. 2) May cut stroke risk by as much as 25%, 3) Linked to  improved glucose metabolism, reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, and promotion of weight loss in overweight patients. 4) May reduce the risk for several cancers. 5) Appears to slow the progression of dementia and Parkinson's disease. 6) A significantly decreased risk of developing depression. 7) Slows progression in alcoholic cirrhosis, hepatitis C, and NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). 8) May be beneficial in dry-eye syndrome, gout, and in preventing MRSA infection. 9) May increase blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, tremor, withdrawal symptoms, and potential increased risk of glaucoma. From Medscape:

How Healthy Is Coffee? The Latest Evidence

Earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) released a report[1] stating that up to five cups of coffee per day, or up to 400 mg of caffeine, is not associated with long-term health risks. Not only that, they highlighted observational evidence that coffee consumption is associated with reduced risk for several diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and neurodegenerative disorders. The body of data suggesting that moderate coffee—and, in all likelihood, tea—consumption is not only safe but beneficial in a variety of mental and medical conditions is growing fast.

A 2012 study of over 400,000 people, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that coffee consumption is associated with a 10% reduction in all-cause mortality at 13-year follow-up.... It's important to note that much of the evidence on the potential health effects of coffee, caffeine, and other foods and nutrients is associational and doesn't prove causality—observational investigations come with limitations and often rely on error-prone methods such as patient questionnaires. However, the sheer volume of existing observational data linking coffee and/or caffeine with various health benefits—as well as, in many cases, evidence of a dose response—suggests that the most widely consumed stimulant in the world has positive influences on our health. 

Cardiovascular Disease:...However, when caffeine is ingested via coffee, enduring blood pressure elevations are small and cardiovascular risks may be balanced by protective properties. Coffee beans contain antioxidant compounds that reduce oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and coffee consumption has been associated with reduced concentrations of inflammatory markers. Moderate coffee intake is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease as far out as 10 years, and data suggest that an average of two cups per day protects against heart failure.

Cerebrovascular Disease and Stroke: The vascular benefits of coffee are not lost on the brain. According to a 2011 meta-analysis, consuming between one and six cups per day reportedly cut stroke risk by 17%. A 22%-25% risk reduction was seen in a large sample of Swedish women followed for an average of 10 years.

Diabetes:...Numerous studies have linked regular coffee drinking with improved glucose metabolism, insulin secretion, and a significantly reduced risk for diabetes. Most recently, findings from a long-term study published this year suggest that coffee drinkers are roughly half as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as are nonconsumers, even after accounting for smoking, high blood pressure, and family history of diabetes.

Cancer: ...Evidence suggests that moderate to heavy coffee consumption can reduce the risk for numerous cancers, including endometrial (> 4 cups/day), prostate (6 cups/day), head and neck (4 cups/day), basal cell carcinoma (> 3 cups/day), melanoma,and breast cancer (> 5 cups/day). The benefits are thought to be at least partially due to coffee's antioxidant and antimutagenic properties.

Neurodegeneration: Beyond the short-term mental boost it provides, coffee also appears to benefit longer-term cognitive well-being. A 2012 study reported that patients with mild cognitive impairment and plasma caffeine levels of > 1200 ng/mL—courtesy of approximately three to five cups of coffee per day—avoided progression to dementia over the following 2-4 years. On a related note, a study from last year reported that caffeine consumption appears to enhance memory consolidation....Caffeinated coffee has long been thought to be neuroprotective in Parkinson disease (PD)....—as well as in multiple sclerosis

Depression: A 2011 study suggests that a boost in coffee consumption might also benefit our mental health: Women who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had a 15% decreased risk for depression compared with those who drank less than one cup per week. A 20% decreased risk was seen in those who drank four cups or more per day. Newer work also suggests that regular coffee drinking may be protective against depression.

Liver Disease: The liver might help break down coffee, but coffee might protect the liver (in some cases). Evidence suggests that coffee consumption slows disease progression in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis and hepatitis C, and reduces the risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma. A 2012 study reported that coffee intake is associated with a lower risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), while work published in 2014 found that coffee protects against liver fibrosis in those with already established NAFLD.

And That's Not All…: An assortment of other research suggests that coffee intake might also relieve dry-eye syndrome by increasing tear production, reduce the risk for gout, and potentially fight infection. Coffee and hot tea consumption were found to be protective against one of the medical community's most concerning bugs, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). While it remains unclear whether the beverages have systemic antimicrobial activity, study participants who reported any consumption of either were approximately half as likely to have MRSA in their nasal passages.

And Finally, the Risks: As is often the case, with benefits come risks, and coffee consumption certainly has negative medical and psychiatric effects to consider. Besides the aforementioned potential increase in blood pressure, coffee can incite or worsen anxiety, insomnia, and tremor and potentially elevate glaucoma risk. Also, given the potential severity of symptoms, caffeine withdrawal syndrome is included as a diagnosis in the DSM-5.

I bet eating fresh blueberries daily instead of blueberry powder would not only be more delicious, but also have even more health benefits. From Science Daily:

Blueberries may help reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness

Just one cup of blueberries per day could be the key to reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness, both of which are associated with cardiovascular disease. .... Johnson said she is interested in looking at how functional foods -- foods that have a positive impact on health beyond basic nutrition -- can prevent and reverse negative health outcomes, particularly for postmenopausal women.

Over an eight-week period, 48 postmenopausal women with pre- and stage-1 hypertension were randomly assigned to receive either 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder -- the equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries -- or 22 grams of a placebo powder. Participants, meanwhile, continued their normal diet and exercise routines.

At the end of the eight weeks, participants receiving the blueberry powder on average had a 7 mmHg (5.1 percent) decrease in systolic blood pressure, which is the top number in the blood pressure reading that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. They also saw a 5 mmHg (6.3 percent) reduction in diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number measuring the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

Additionally, participants in the blueberry-treated group had an average reduction of 97 cm/second (6.5 percent) in arterial stiffness.They also found that nitric oxide, a blood biomarker known to be involved in the widening of blood vessels, increased by 68.5 percent. That is important, Johnson said, because arterial stiffness and the narrowing of blood vessels are both a part of hypertension. This rise in nitric oxide helps explain the reductions in blood pressure.