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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.
Other research has shown a link between BPA and asthma, obesity and breast cancer.
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?
Discussion (43 Comments)
Avoiding plastic is better for our health, and better for the health of this beautiful planet we are charged to be stewards for. Anything we can do to reduce our own plastic usage will help keep the Pacific Garbage Patch from growing ever larger and could save the lives of seabirds who eat plastic, mistaking it for food…it is tragic and the opportunity to prevent such suffering of innocent animals is a huge motivator for me. Plastic will not biodegrade; every bit of plastic ever produced remains in the ecosystem, breaking down into ever smaller particles which rise up through the food chain. Very scary.
It’s all so overwhelming some times. The world has become such a toxic place. Here I’m thinking that BPA free is great. Manufacturers are still not required to fully disclose ALL the ingredients in their products, eg. natural flavors. They aren’t required to label if it’s GMO nor what has been used in the production of their containers. Grrrrr.
I’m curious about the coffee pots having BPA. The ones made of glass? I guess it really doesn’t matter since the water goes through plastic in the coffee maker.
At what point does one say, “I can’t avoid it all so I’m drawing the line here”? It’s hard though because once I know something is, in one way or another toxic, I can’t bring myself to buy it. Yet there is budget to keep. So frustrating!
Please explain the use of the word “receipts”. I haven’t seen it used in this way. I researched and the only other meaning I could find other than the “piece of paper” was “To disbelieve something so much that some kind of hard evidence is required”. I am trying to learn as much as I can about “healthy living”. Not for me so much as for my grandchildren. I am 66 years and was raised on healthy food and no plastics. I refused to drink from plastic when my kids were small and Tupperware glasses were popular. I make sourdough bread and water kefir. I’m going to try kombacha soon. I’m learning a little bit at the time and I love your website. BTW I bought your cookbook. Passing it on to my daughter so she can cook healthy for my grandkids. Also I make bone broth for my grandkids and my dogs. For my dogs I mix it with their dry food. Not everyday but a couple of day each week.
I am referring to the printed receipts that you may receive if you make a purchase at a store. Usually the paper comes in a roll and is dispensed slowly through a particular machine that prints the purchased items as the paper is dispensed. This is thermal paper and it likely to contain BPA. As I mention in the article, airline ticket receipts (the boarding pass you may be given when you check in) and movie theater tickets (that you buy at the ticket counter) are commonly printed in this kind of paper as well. Luckily there are electronic options for most of these, or you can simply tell the checkout operator that you don’t want a receipt.
I drink a lot of carbonated water from cans (I like the bubbles and the alternative is plastic). Is there a lot in those sorts of cans? Does it leech as much as from food cans or other items? Is there a way to figure out if/what BP-type chemical is in my particular cans? Thanks for all your good work!
Hm… You might be able to look up the manufacturer’s website and see if they specify. Manufacturers who don’t use BPA are usually pretty up front about it, as BPA is becoming more recognized as a health hazard, and they are proud to leave it out. The cans themselves may even say “BPA-free” on them (although I doubt this is the case since that would be pretty obvious).
I have seen sparkling water sold in glass bottles – probably the more expensive brands, but still worth considering.
Great topic/article! We have gone to some lengths to eliminate BPA exposure, but it is impossible, for me/us anyway, to be 100% free of it. I had no idea the receipts are COATED with it! Imagine grocery check out workers, how much they are handling in just on shift. Geeesh
I work in a custard shop dealing with receipts 40 hours a week. Reading this article has absolutely disgusted me, just thinking about how much of those chemicals I’m putting into my body! Especially since I HAVE to touch them.
It may be cumbersome but I know a woman, who works as a check out at a discount department store, and she wears thin gloves. I don’t know what they’re made of but you might want to check into this?
A fellow who used to work on the checkout at my local supermarket always wore latex gloves. I assumed it was to avoid germs from handling money all day, but after reading about the receipts…maybe he was wise to BPA.
I learned about the cans lined with BPA a few years back so I now try to use canned foods that say no BPA lining, but there aren’t many choices.
I also learned about the receipts through a documentary on Netflix (forgot the name). Ever since then I ask the cashier to put the receipt in the bag for me. But, it’s hard to avoid touching when you’re at the theater and u have to hand someone your movie ticket. Or when you have to sign it and add a tip at a restaurant. Ugh. Should I wear gloves, I mean at that point I think people would think I’m exaggerated, but how far is to far to protect our health? ..
There are many things that I have learned in recent years that have taught me a new way of eating food and purchasing things. I take now into consideration the type of candles I light (beeswax only) the couch I’m sitting on (flame retardent free) the pillows I lie on (not the matress super expensive but working on it!), I store my food out of glass containers, and my water delivery is a 5 gallon glass jug! I try to avoid MSG (damn u hidden MSG!) and I shop organic even though my husband cringes at the market receipt (which is BPA free! Yay for whole foods!!!) but. .. There’s still a lot more that needs to be changed or avoided, and it’s hard. .. But on the bright side because I’m trying I’m definitely better off than I was several years ago when I was clueless about the hazards of what was normal to me. Knowledge is power and I now have the power to make changes for myself even if it’s a small step at a time. ..
We avoid canned goods at all cost…but we do eat wild caught canned fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon…the cans are BPA free, but should I still be concerned? I guess I figure the nutrients in thee fish is worth it, but maybe I’m wrong on the matter.
I’ve been phasing out plastics (and chemicals) since last October after reading It Starts with the Egg, a book about improving fertility. It talks about BPA a lot, but I haven’t been comfortable with plastics in general since. Thanks for the information on bisphenol. It makes it easier to explain to the husband why BPA free plastic is still not good enough. I will be pregnant soon, hopefully, and I want a healthy environment for my child.
Oh and wanted to say that when I grew up in the 80s, most condiments were sold in glass jars. Now everything is in plastic. And so many people refuse to believe we live in a more toxic world. Smh.
You advised us to buy frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned, but aren’t the frozen foods mostly in plastic containers too? I know buying fresh would be the best way to go but it would also be a lot more expensive, and in order to freeze it myself I would have to buy a lot of glass containers and need a lot of freezer space. Do you know if there are any brands that don’t use these liners in their cans? Buying healthy food is becoming a big problem with all the things they do to our food now.
Thank you for helping us in so many ways. I just wish I could follow all of your advise.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Good question… working on a follow up post with that, but this post has a good summary of BPA free companies: https://bpafreecannedfood.wordpress.com/bpa-free-canned-food-brands/
Yes! And recycled paper products like toilet paper. I keep this in mind when my daughter tries to eat it 🙂