What is BPA?
The potential health risks of bisphenol-A (BPA) have been debated by pediatricians for years. Read on to learn more about the sources and dangers of BPA and how to avoid it in your daily life.
BPA is an industrial chemical commonly used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics and resins. These plastics are then used to produce food and beverage containers like water bottles and even menstrual products. The BPA-containing epoxy resins are used as a coating inside metal products like food and drink cans and water pipes.
For more than 50 years, BPA has been used to harden plastics. These plastics are then used to make commercial products for daily use. Because of their ubiquitous use, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has expressed concern regarding the levels of exposure to BPA in our daily lives.
What are the sources of BPA?
According to the NIEHS, while BPA exposure can occur through the air, dust, and water, the main route of exposure is through diet.
In the 1960s, BPA began to be used for producing food packaging and kitchen products that were tough, resilient, and durable. This started the conversation regarding BPA’s ability to seep into all our regularly consumed foods and drinks, particularly those stored for long periods like canned foods.
Plastic containers that are heated or microwaved can cause additional BPA to leach out due to heat exposure. Some of the most common sources of BPA include:
- Plastic food containers and drinking cups
- Metal cans for storing canned goods
- Feminine hygiene products
- Sealants used by dentists
- Eyeglass lenses
- Common electronics
- DVDs and CDs
- Sporting gear
How does BPA affect the body?
Because of its widespread use in household products, BPA exposure is inevitable. How much is too much? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), BPA exposure levels of less than 2.25 milligrams per pound of body weight or 5 milligrams per kilogram are considered acceptable.
Because most people have around 0.2 to 0.5 micrograms of BPA exposure per kilogram of body weight per day, the FDA considers BPA a relatively safe additive for adult food packaging.
However, even at these ostensibly safe levels, BPA exposure has been linked to some health problems. This is because BPA can act like the hormone estrogen and bind to its receptors, thus affecting various bodily functions like cell growth and repair, energy levels, and reproduction. BPA can also similarly bind to thyroid hormone receptors and influence cell function.
As a result, BPA exposure has been associated with the following diseases:
1. Birth defects and poor childhood health
BPA may seep into the placenta and breast milk. Because babies can’t metabolize BPA, it can affect their growth in the uterus and after delivery. BPA exposure may also influence gene expression, leading to an increased risk of disease.
2. Neurological issues in children
BPA exposure has been linked to the development of many cancers like colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. According to lab studies, it may also decrease the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
In animal studies, BPA reduced fertility, decreased testosterone levels, and negatively impacted sperm quality in male mice. It also increased infertility by lowering estradiol, reducing the number of healthy eggs and affecting the implantation of fertilized eggs in female mice.
Additional studies on humans are needed, though, to confirm these findings.
BPA binds to estrogen receptors in the body, leading to the accumulation of fat, which causes weight gain. BPA also damages mitochondria, leading to chronic stress and a poor immune response. This affects your body’s ability to regulate appetite and weight.
The inflammatory properties of BPA make the body more susceptible to poor appetite regulation and unwanted weight gain, which increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
How to minimize contact with BPA
As there have been many documented negative associations with BPA, you may want to limit your exposure to BPA in daily life. Eliminating contact with BPA might be challenging, though.
Here are some easy lifestyle changes you can make to reduce BPA exposure:
- Opt for BPA-free packaging and products. Carefully check food packaging and avoid old, scratched, or unlabeled products. Don’t go for foods that are packaged in containers with recycling codes 3 or 7 (usually marked as a triangle at the bottom).
- Avoid heating plastic food containers. Heating or microwaving plastic increases the risk of BPA leaching into foodstuff. Use microwave-safe utensils to cook food.
- Use glass bottles. Choose drinks that come in glass bottles. You can also use glass water bottles and baby bottles.
- Avoid frozen or canned goods. Choose whole and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Opt for BPA-free toys and toiletries. Ensure that any toys and toiletries you buy are free of BPA, especially products that you put in your mouth or those that children could chew or suck on.
Research in BPA-free plastic alternatives is still ongoing. However, most of these products could contain bisphenol-S or bisphenol-F, which could also leak into foods and disrupt cell function in the same ways as BPA.
Consequently, minimizing the use of all plastics might be the best solution for now. You could choose glass or stainless steel containers and cardboard or biodegradable packaging.
Pregnant women and young children need to be particularly careful as BPA is a phytoestrogen that can mimic the effects of estrogen. Although the BPA exposure levels in our everyday lives are unlikely to result in serious health hazards, additional research in this field is warranted to document all the health risks of BPA.
While it’s impossible to completely avoid BPA exposure while participating in our modern lifestyle, limiting BPA exposure is an achievable goal. Eating whole foods, avoiding canned or processed food and drinks, and choosing glass or stainless steel for kitchenware are a few possible choices.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Birth Defects Research: "Plastics derived endocrine-disrupting compounds and their effects on early development."
Chemosphere: "Chronic exposure of BPA impairs male germ cell proliferation and induces lower sperm quality in male mice."
Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health: "Bisphenol-A (BPA)."
Critical Reviews in Toxicology: "Bisphenol A co-exposure effects: a key factor in understanding BPA's complex mechanism and health outcomes."
Current Molecular Pharmacology: "The Endocrine Disruptor Bisphenol A (BPA) Exerts a Wide Range of Effects in Carcinogenesis and Response to Therapy."
Endocrinology and Metabolism (Seoul, Korea): "Bisphenols and Thyroid Hormone."
Environmental Health Perspectives: "Bisphenol S and F: A Systematic Review and Comparison of the Hormonal Activity of Bisphenol A Substitutes."
International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Potential Mechanisms of Bisphenol A (BPA) Contributing to Human Disease."
Journal of Environmental Health: "Bisphenol A: a threat to human health?."
Journal of Environmental Science and Health. Part. B, Pesticides, Food Contaminants, and Agricultural Wastes: "Bisphenol A and Bisphenol S release in milk under household conditions from baby bottles marketed in Italy."
Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology: "Environmental estrogen-like endocrine disrupting chemicals and breast cancer."
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: "Bisphenol A (BPA)."
Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Role of Antioxidants and Natural Products in Inflammation."
Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: "Bisphenol A: an emerging threat to female fertility."
Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny: "Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA)."
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "2014 Updated safety assessment of Bisphenol A (BPA) for use in food contact applications," "Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application."
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