Judkis, Maura. “Researchers Find ‘Another Reason’ to Avoid Fast Food: Chemicals in the Packaging.” The Washington Post, 1 February 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/food/wp/2017/02/01/researchers-find-another-reason-to-avoid-fast-food-chemicals-in-the-packaging/?utm_term=.f6f597cbea6b.
In this newspaper article, the author reports on recent evidence that chemicals associated with cancer are present in the materials used to package fast food. The study was conducted at the Silent Spring Institute, and the reporter interviewed one of the study’s authors, who claims that the findings are another reason for people to limit their intake of fast food. The potentially harmful chemicals are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), which are used to make materials waterproof, non-stick, and resistant to stains. In fast food products, they are used to reduce the amount of leaking of grease or sauce. They are also used in cookware, clothing, and carpeting materials. Kidney and testicular cancer are among a wide range of health risks associated with these chemicals.

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In their study, the authors tested wrappers from 27 different fast food restaurants, and they found that about a third of them contained fluorine, which is a marker indicating the presence of PFAs. They found fluorine in the paper wrappers for desserts and sandwiches, the paper board used for French fries and pizza, but not in paper cups. The author also points out that people may also be exposed to PFAs through other commercial products. Nevertheless, an industry group, the FluoroCouncil, has defended the use of these chemicals in commercial materials because companies have switched to short-chain PFAs, which research suggests are less likely to cause cancer and other health problems than long-chain PFAs. The researcher who was interviewed for the article was also heartened by the fact that most of the packaging they tested was free of PFAs, which shows that some companies have adopted safe alternatives.

Leung et al. “Gestational High-Fat Diet and Bisphenol A Exposure Heightens Mammary Cancer Risk.” Endocrine Related Cancer, July 2017, vol. 24, no. 7, pp. 345-358.

In this academic journal article, the researchers examined the combinatorial effect of in utero exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) and a high-butterfat diet on mammary cancer risk for the offspring. Prior to the study, scientific evidence that if a mother was exposed to BPA during the pregnancy, it could increase the risk that the offspring would develop cancer of the mammary glands. There was also evidence that a high-fat diet could also increase breast cancer risk. The researchers wanted to find out how the risks were affected if the mother was exposed to both risk factors.

To explore this question, the researchers conducted a study in female rats. The rats were divided into a control group and five experimental groups. The control group was fed a normal diet. The other five groups were fed a high-butterfat diet, with different levels of BPA exposure. One group had no BPA exposure. The other four groups received a daily oral dosage of 2.5 ug, 25 ug, 250 ug, or 2500 ug BPA per kilogram of body weight. Then, after the offspring were born, they exposed female offspring to a carcinogen that is a commonly-used model for breast cancer. They found that the incidence of tumor development in the offspring from the high-butterfat diet / 25 ug BPA exposure group was significantly higher than in the offspring from the high-butterfat diet / no BPA exposure group: 90 percent of offspring from the former group developed tumors, as opposed to only 45 percent of the latter group. They also identified several genes that were associated with the development of cancer in the mammary glands of offspring that had gestational exposure to both BPA and a high-butterfat diet.

Based on these findings, these authors concluded that combinatorial gestational exposure to both BPA and a high-butterfat diet can increase breast cancer risk in offspring in a non-monotonic manner. This may be a cause for concern, because the EPA’s daily tolerable oral dose reference for BPA is 50 ug per kilogram of body weight per day, and in rodents, the rsearchers observed a significantly higher risk at only 25 ug per kilogram of body weight per day. However, a limitation of the study is that it was conducted in rodents, so the results may not be generalizable to the human population.

Nathan, Aparna. “How Worried Should I Really Be About Carcinogens?” Popular Science, 19 July 2017, https://www.popsci.com/carcinogens-cancer-risk.

In this magazine article, the author explores concerns about the relationship between exposure to certain chemicals and cancer risk. The author points out that, in recent years, new articles have warned about many potential carcinogens. His thesis is that the degree to which people should worry about carcinogen exposure depends on the type of carcinogen and the frequency and amount of exposure. According to the author, there is strong evidence that some chemical and environmental factors significantly increase the risk of cancer, while the research supporting the cancer-causing effects of certain carcinogens is less convincing.

In the first section of the article, the author reminds the reader of how carcinogens cause cancer: by producing extensive DNA damage. Research shows that carcinogens can create DNA damage that is much more extensive than what normally occurs during the DNA replication process. In the next section, the author highlights the carcinogens that have the highest level of research support. For instance, there are many research studies showing that the chemicals in cigarettes can damage DNA, as well as long-term correlational studies demonstrating strong association between smoking and lung cancer.

However, the author points out that in some cases, claims about cancer risk are based only on one or a few studies. In some cases these studies were only conducted on animals, so it may not be clear whether the results are applicable to human populations. Therefore, the author advises readers to look at lists of carcinogens from reliable organizations like the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on cancer or the American Cancer Society. The author concludes by stating that people should focus on avoiding exposure to the chemical and environmental factors that have the strongest evidence-based links to cancer. These include UV radiation (from the sun and tanning beds), cigarettes, alcohol, and human papilloma virus (HPV).