Long a target of consumer and environmental groups, some products are now BPA-free. Does the controversy over BPA end there?
The acronym BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is a synthetic chemical compounded for commercial use in the mid-1950’s. While associated largely with water bottles, and the sippy-cups of children, use of BPA is widespread in manufacturing, and found in can and pipe coatings, sporting equipment, compact discs, and more.
You handle BPA every day as a coating on the thermal paper predominantly used for cash register receipts, in hard plastics, and adhesives.
In terms of packaging, the official position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on BPA is “BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”
So why be concerned?
BPA and You: Maybe a Little Too Close
There are some compelling reasons— and research— to suggest knowledge about BPA is a good thing. Let’s take a look at the issues:
- What’s the concern? Although the FDA finds BPA coatings to be safe for food packaging, it banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and cups in 2012. Heeding facts that show the chemical leaches into the bloodstream of those who are exposed, the only group protected by the FDA ban are infants and toddlers.
- Estrogen-mimic: Studies suggest BPA mimics estrogen, affecting the endocrine system, reproductive organs, brain, and prostate. BPA is also linked to unhealthy reductions in thyroid hormone. Ultimately, BPA exposure is linked to early puberty, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and infertility.
- Chemical exposure: Across the United States, people are routinely exposed to chemicals in the air, on products, in food, and in the water. Given the potential impact of chronic exposure to BPA, and its chemical relatives, understanding prevalence is essential. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BPA exists in more than 90 percent of the urine samples representative of the U.S. population. In 2009 the Environment Working Group (EWG) published results of a study that examined umbilical cord blood of newborn babies from minority parents. Among chemicals found in nine out of ten cord blood samples, researchers found compounds used in Teflon coatings, circuit boards, flame retardants, detergents, and BPA.
In 2011, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found levels of BPA soared 1,000 percent in volunteers who consumed canned soups for five days.
Particularly worrisome are thermal paper cash register machine receipts. One study found the receipt you stash in your wallet could be between .08 and 3.0 percent pure BPA, offering toxic exposure between 250 and 1,000 times that of what you might ingest in a can of soup. Once handled, BPA is quickly absorbed the skin, especially if moist, and enters the dermis to a point where it cannot be washed off.
There is little question that BPA resides in the bodies of all Americans over the age of six — and probably much younger.
What About Substitutes?
In response to consumer concern, rather than regulation, manufacturers began substituting other chemicals for BPA. One of the substitutes is BPS, another synthetic chemical compound that resides in the same family of industrial chemicals as BPA. Common in consumer products, BPS now turns up in urine samples, and is linked to similar reproductive and metabolic problems as BPA.
One study compiled evidence that suggests approximately 455 plastics commercially available to industry, leach chemicals with estrogen activity (EA).
A recent New York Times article discusses efforts by some soup manufacturers to reformulate food cans to leave out the BPA. But even as some companies, like Amy’s brand organic soups advertise their cans as BPA-free, the safety of substitutes remains in question.
What Can You Do?
Our integrative medical practice strives to return our patients to wellness, supporting them through journeys of many kinds, including chronic conditions like fatigue, and thyroid troubles. For anyone concerned about their health, understanding environmental toxins is essential. But what can you do about a chemical that is literally everywhere?
Consider these tips for reducing exposure to chemical toxins:
- Look for BPA-free products. Realizing the substitute may be no less toxic, if you have to use a product, try to choose a manufacturer that attempted to address the issue. Watch for recycle codes of 3 and 7, which indicate plastics containing BPA. Choose 2, 4, or 5, instead.
- At the dentist: Be sure to ask if sealants, or composite material, contain BPA.
- BYOM: Bring your own mug. If you often stop for coffee, bring your own mug so you know what you are — and are not — drinking. Disposable cups not only add to the landfill, they could be lined with plastics.
- Switch out kitchen staples: Instead of plastics, go back to glass, look for steel water bottles, and porcelain food storage dishes.
- Go fresh: Reduce dependency of your family on canned goods. While this could mean more work if you decide to cook fresh soups, you can also choose soups in glass jars. Reduce use of canned foods and soups to take out a sizeable source of BPA in your kitchen.
- Keep it cool: Polycarbonates break down in heat, potentially leaching food into stored or heated foods. Avoid putting polycarbonate plastics in the dishwasher or microwave.
- About those soft drinks: We talked earlier about diet soda and potential health risks. Here is another one — most soft drinks are packaged in cans lined with BPA. A December 2014 study in the journal, Hypertension, found people who drink beverages from BPA-lined plastic bottles and cans experience a substantial jump in blood pressure within hours of consuming the liquid. Participants who drank from non-BPA lined containers had no increase in blood pressure, nor BPA in their urine.
Chemicals are helpful in many ways and some can be hurtful. You can help yourself, and your family, by making informed choices. BPA, or BPA-free—know your options.