By now, most people have at lease a passing familiarity with BPA, a chemical found in many plastics, and make an effort to avoid it, yet many of us still miss some of the hidden sources.
What is BPA?
BPA (bisphenol-A) is a synthetic estrogen used in making many plastic products like plastic bottles, baby bottles, children’s toys and even medical devices. It is also part of the epoxy resin that lines many metal cans, like those used for canned vegetables, fruits and meats.
An average 6 billion pounds of this chemical are produced each year.
The Problems with BPA
Many people avoid bisphenol-A after reports showed that it is an endocrine disruptor and that it may raise blood pressure. (1,2) BPA can leach into foods from plastic bottles or canned goods. Some factors, like the temperature of what is stored in the plastic/can and its acidity can affect the amount of bisphenol-A that transfers into the food or drink.
Though it has been found in air, water and dust, the main source of BPA exposure for most humans is foods and drinks stored in containers that contain it.
But does it end up in your body? Short answer- yes…
Long answer- A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) study found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93% of people (6 and up) who were tested. Additionally, it has been found in breastmilk and newborn babies, suggesting that it might store in the body and could potentially cross the placenta.(3,4)
Since it is an endocrine disruptor,bisphenol-A may also lead to hormone imbalance, infertility, early puberty, increased risk of reproductive cancers, low sperm count and other hormone-related problems.
While the dangers of bisphenol-A were once thought to be most harmful if used regularly over time, recent research has shown that even a one-time exposure can create problems within a few hours. The study compared two groups of people: those who drank a beverage from a BPA-lined can and those who drank the same beverage from a glass container.
The researchers found that those who drank from the BPA-lined cans had a rise in BPA in their urine within two hours… and a rise in blood pressure during the same time period. (In fact, those who drank from the BPA lined cans had a 16 times higher level of BPA in their urine.
We already knew from past research that bisphenol-A can increase the risk of hypertension, blood pressure problems and heart rate variability (5), but now we know that this is an almost immediate change.
Canada banned BPA from children’s products in 2010, and many other countries have taken this step as well. China, France, Denmark, Belgium and Austria all limit BPAs use in food.
There are many reasons to consider avoiding bisphenol-A, but actually doing so can be much more difficult that you’d think…
Hidden Sources of Bisphenol-A
We know that BPA is found in many plastics and especially water bottles (which is one of the many reasons to avoid them), but it may also be hiding in places you wouldn’t expect:
- Canned Goods: It is often used in the lining of the cans used for vegetables, soups, fruits and other foods. Since it is present during the high-heat canning and sterilization process, it may be present in even higher levels in these foods. Solution: Use fresh or frozen fruits and veggies.
- Receipts: Paper receipts are often lined with BPA. This includes airline receipts, movie tickets and any receipts printed on thermal paper. The EWG warns that it can transfer to your hand from the receipt and enter your body through your skin or if you touch food or your mouth. Solution: Skip the receipt. Even if you get and recycle the receipt, it may contaminate recycled paper products like toilet paper.
- Dental Sealants: Dental sealants and composites can contain bisphenol-A. Solution: Talk to your dentist before any dental work.
- Plastic Wrap: Often contains bisphenol-A and other plastic chemicals. Solution: Use parchment paper, glass storage containers or homemade food wrap instead.
- Coffee Pot: Sadly, many coffee pots are a source of BPA and since hot water is used, there is a higher chance of it leaching into food. Solution: Use a French Press or Glass Kettle instead.
- Soda Cans: So there are many other reasons you shouldn’t be drinking soda, but you can add this to the list. Even “healthier” sodas made with stevia can have BPA in the lining. Solution: Avoid drinking soda.
- Plastic and Paper Cups: Plastic cups often contain bisphenol-A, but paper cups are often lined with it too. Solution: Bring your own reusable mug (and the planet will thank you too).
- Other Kitchen Plastics: Bisphenol-A is also found in many kitchen plastics besides water bottles, including plastic food storage, plates, utensils and cups. Here is a good guide to going BPA-free in your kitchen and a review of my favorite plastic-free water bottle.
- CDs and DVDs: A small source, but consider switching to digital copies of your favorite music and movies.
Beyond BPA: Other Plastic Problems
Recently, someone tried to give me a water bottle at a chiropractors office. I replied that I don’t use plastic and she replied that “Oh, don’t worry, it is BPA free. Most plastics are now so there is really nothing to worry about.” And I cringed…
Here’s the thing- BPA is certainly one of the bigger problems with plastics, but it is by no means the only one. In fact, some of the BPA-free alternatives may be just as harmful, or more so.
I think that one of the few negative effects of the widespread awareness of the problems with bisphenol-A is the safety many people feel when using BPA-free alternatives.
Products labeled as BPA-free often contain substitutes like bisphenol-S or bisphenol-F, both of which were found to have just as much of a hormonal effect (or more) than bisphenol-A.(6)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sums it up well:
Here we demonstrate that bisphenol A exposure during a time point analogous to the second trimester in humans has real and measurable effects on brain development and behavior. Furthermore, our study is the first, to our knowledge, to show that bisphenol S, a replacement used in BPA-free products, equally affects neurodevelopment. These findings suggest that BPA-free products are not necessarily safe and support a societal push to remove all structurally similar bisphenol analogues and other compounds with endocrine-disruptive activity from consumer goods. Our data here, combined with over a dozen physiological and behavioral human studies that begin to point to the prenatal period as a BPA window of vulnerability, suggest that pregnant mothers limit exposure to plastics and receipts.
The Bottom Line
Bisphenol-A carries a lot of potential health hazards, and BPA-free substitutes may be even more harmful. Though it is difficult, the best option is to avoid plastics and other BPA-containing substances (like receipts, canned goods, etc).
The good news is that bisphenol-A has a relatively short half-life so it is possible to reduce levels quickly and drastically by avoiding common exposure.
Do you avoid BPA? What was the hardest thing for you to give up?