Do you use any of these items: plastic drinking containers, cans, bottle caps, plastic cutlery, plastic food storage containers, toys, water pipes? Do you have dental sealants, fillings, or wear eyeglasses? If so, chances are good that BPA (bisphenol A) is part of your life. BPA is used to produce some plastics and epoxy resins. It seems to be in nearly everything plastic in our lives. But BPA can lurk elsewhere too.
BPA is also in printer ink, newspapers and some receipts, which means it ends up in recycled paper. Recycled paper is used from in everything from cardboard to paper towels to food containers. Even if you are consciously trying to remove plastic from your household, the chances are good that BPA is entering your house in some way.
Some chemicals in plastics such as BPA fall into the category of endocrine disruptors. As defined by the FDA, endocrine disruptors are “chemicals that either mimic endogenous hormones, interfere with pharmacokinetics or act by other mechanisms.” Information specific about the dangers of BPA is mainly derived from animal research. In rats and mice, BPA exposure in early development change the reproductive hormone cycles. Females may have early puberty, increased breast tissue, prolonged hormone cycles, and fertility problems, including chromosomal abnormalities in their eggs. Males have lower testosterone levers, decreased sperm counts and abnormal sperm, larger prostates and possible higher risk for prostate cancer. Both males and females often weigh more and have more body fat. Exposure early in utero can have effects on the brain and lead to behavior changes and impaired learning.
Recent research from North Carolina State University and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) demonstrates that the daily “reference dose” amount of BPA exposure set by the EPA caused early onset of puberty in female rats when they were exposed in their first four days of life. That time window was chosen because it is equivalent to a human child’s development in the womb. According to the EPA, a reference dose means “An estimate of a daily oral exposure to the human population that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious (harmful) effects during a lifetime.” This research shows that even a supposedly safe amount of BPA exposure could be harmful to a fetus.
An earlier report by the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill Bisphenol A expert panel found “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” In addition, although there are not enough human studies to provide any conclusive proof or refutation, studies in animals do show there is the possibility of linkage between BPA and infertility, breast and prostate cancer, type-2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, autism, and some other conditions that have been on the rise in human populations over the last half century. The report highly stresses the need for more research before any conclusions on the effects of BPA are reached.
What can I do?
- Stop or reduce your reliance on canned food, as cans are most likely the largest contributor of BPA on our diets. Soda cans also may contain BPA.
- Find BPA-free plastic wrap. You may have to call a company to find out if their product contains BPA because they are not required to inform consumers about BPA
- Avoid plastic water bottles, even those touted as reusable. Unless they state they are BPA-free, the chances are they contain it.
- Bring your own containers to restaurants for take-out or leftovers. They are much safer (and sturdier) than what is provided.
- Use ceramic or glass containers to store, re-heat, or cook food. Plastic containers will leach BPA faster if warmed.
- Use wooden or metal utensils when cooking and use a wooden cutting board.
- Recycle – BPA can leach into groundwater from landfills.
Mothers with babies:
- Breastfeed! Although BPA is present in breastmilk if ingested by the mother, the amount is much lower than what is found in formula. Mothers can also follow steps to reduce their BPA consumption to provide more protection.
- When formula shopping, choose powder over liquid because there is less BPA present in the powder.
- Look for glass or BPA-free glass bottles.
- Choose teethers, bottle nipples, pacifiers and toys that state they are BPA-free.