BPA, or Bisphenol-A, has practically become a household word in America as a dangerous chemical found in certain types of plastic, particularly plastic #7. This polycarbonate is a non-recyclable plastic commonly used for the following products:
- the lining of food and beverage cans
- plastic water bottles
- kitchen plastics such as measuring cups, glasses and storage containers.
- dental sealants and fillings
- medical devices including catheter and IV tubing and blood bags
- paints, epoxy adhesives and cash register receipts
Its health effects in lab animal studies include the following1:
- Cellular changes in mammary and prostate tissue that precede cancer
- Changes in brain development leading to behavioral abnormalities
- Premature onset of puberty
- Lower sperm counts
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Obesity and insulin resistance which leads to diabetes
- Blockage of natural estrogen
Without plasticizers, plastics tend to be very brittle substances that do not withstand environmental pressures without shattering, cracking, or splitting. Like many plasticizers, BPA is a xenoestrogen, or artificial chemical that binds to estrogen receptors in humans and animals, causing a variety of health effects. BPA rocketed to the forefront of the news as a number of studies demonstrated strong negative health impacts in animals. Because BPA is found in 93% of Americans in concentrations similar to those used in lab studies, concern about health effects in humans became widespread, particularly because of its common use in products for infants and children.
In human cell line studies, it has also been linked to DNA damage that can increase carcinogenesis2 and in human studies to elevated inflammation3 in fat tissues4 which is a factor linked to most chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancers. Levels of BPA also correlate with levels of obesity.5 Because it behaves like an overly potent estrogen, it easily contributes to weight gain.
Plasticizers are only loosely bonded to the plastics they inhabit and leach readily into foods and liquids. BPA even passes easily through the skin from the thermal receipt paper it is used on. In just two hours of handling receipts urine levels of BPA increased significantly.6
Common recommendations for lowering BPA levels include avoiding #7 plastic by:
- eliminating canned food and replacing it with products in paper or cardboard
- using stainless or glass to drink from
- storing food in glass
- using aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap and especially not microwaving food in plastics or with plastic wrap on top of them as this dramatically increases chemical leaching
- requesting BPA-free dental sealants
- checking beauty products and containers to make sure they are BPA free
- requesting no receipt when making a purchase
- making coffee in a French press since coffee pots and tubing usually have BPA
In addition to reducing BPA exposure, studies have shown that probiotics increase its rapid excretion from the body.7
While such practices can help to reduce an individual’s BPA load, they do not remind consumers of another very important consideration. BPA is only one of many endocrine disrupting plasticizers used in the manufacture of plastics. Because of consumer outcry, some companies have moved to BPA-free plastics. What is not well broadcast is that the chemical or chemicals used to replace BPA are often as bad or worse than BPA itself.8 And there have always been many other endocrine disrupting plasticizers in plastics, beauty products and medical supplies. Such compounds include phthalates (commonly used in PVC), sebacates, adipates, terephthalates, dibenzoates, gluterates, and azelates. Many of these chemical lines are not household names but they are found in a wide variety of plastics and many can be recognized by their smell. “New car smell” and new carpet smell are created by the off gassing of these plasticizers and a quick trip to many big box stores will give you a whiff of many more of them. Most of them are better avoided as their health effects have not been adequately studied.