BPA, which stands for bisphenol A, has essentially become a household name in recent years. BPA is a chemical which can be found in plastics, food packaging, receipts, and other products. After mounting evidence that BPA acts as a hormone-disrupting chemical and may have other negative effects on health, manufacturers began to remove BPA from their products in response to pressure from concerned consumers, scientists, and regulators. While this is a step in the right direction, the problem is far from over.
BPA is still ubiquitous in the environment and present in most adults. In fact, studies have shown that over 90% of adults have BPA in their bodies. To make matters worse, the process of removing it has presented another problem – finding safe alternatives. Other bisphenol compounds such as bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) have often been used in place of BPA. But are they any better? These chemicals are structurally similar to BPA; so it begs the question, do they act in the same way? Let’s take a look at the research on these alternatives, and BPS in particular.
In 2015, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences published a summary of the current literature up to 2014 on this topic of BPA alternatives. It specifically looked at BPS and BPF and how they compare to BPA in terms of mechanism of action and potential health effects. In the review, 32 studies met the criteria to be included. Studies on BPS included 4 in vivo (within a living organism) and 18 in vitro (outside a living organism, such as a test tube or petri dish). Potency, actions, and metabolism of these chemicals were similar to BPA both in vivo and in vitro. It was concluded that they are hormonally active enough to be considered endocrine disruptors, as well as being linked to cancer, neurodysfunction, tissue and organ problems, and changes in enzyme expression.
How & Why it’s Important to Avoid BPS
BPS is similar to estradiol (a form of estrogen) in membrane-mediated pathways. These reactions occur much quicker than those related to DNA, suggesting that it may be an even bigger threat than BPA in terms of hormonal effects. In 2016, a study published in Endocrinology was the first to report that BPS can act as an obesogen by inducing the production of new fat cells and converting others into fat cells. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of recent findings is the probability that these chemicals can cause negative effects even in very small amounts. At least one study demonstrated that BPS was active at concentrations equivalent to the amount likely to leach into food from its container.
BPS can be found in many places in the environment and within our homes, including personal care products, BPA-free paper, cleaning products, food, and even indoor dust, just to name a few. Just like BPA, BPS was also found to be present in the majority of adults. One study revealed that 78% of adults (not occupationally exposed) had BPS in their urine. For those wanting to minimize their exposure to BPA and other bisphenols, look for plastics with numbers 1,2,4, and 5, which are known to be safer. It is best to avoid plastic food containers altogether whenever possible, along with plastic baby bottles, plastic utensils, canned foods, and cash register receipts. It is especially important to avoid heating up food in plastic.
Why are Consumers Exposed to Potentially Harmful Chemicals?
Why would these BPA alternatives be used if they are likely to be just as harmful? Unfortunately, many chemical replacements are not tested for safety before being used in consumer products or in industrial settings. Because of this, these replacement chemicals that are later found to be just as bad as the original are sometimes referred to as “regrettable substitutions.” While more research is needed to know the extent of the possible negative effects of exposure and other factors involved, it is clear that we have the need for more rigorous testing on man-made substances prior to human exposure. This is especially important considering that those most at risk of negative health effects from these chemicals are also those who can’t take their own precautions, such as young and unborn children.
Most likely it will be a long road to improving testing and removing these harmful chemicals from our environment. Using daily detoxification strategies, such as drinking plenty of water, exercising, using saunas, and incorporating foods and dietary supplements that support proper liver function, can help mitigate the effects of these and other potentially harmful environmental toxins.