If you’ve been paying any attention to the headlines lately, then you’ve probably heard the uproar about bisphenal A (BPA). If you’re worried about BPA showing up in in unlikely places, like your canned chicken noodle soup, for instance, then you’re not the only one.
When I first heard about the dangers of BPA it seemed as if it was limited to baby bottles and water bottles, Nalgene bottles in particular. So I ditched my Nalgene and went with a stainless steel bottle. I thought that was the end of the story.
But, BPA is in a lot of the things we use everyday. And, that’s disturbing to me. So, I’m putting on my Sherlock hat and going investigating.
What Is BPA?
Bisphenal A is a chemical compound that was originally discovered in 1891. It was shelved in favor of other chemicals at the time, but revived many years later when a polymer chemist discovered it could be used to form polycarbonate plastic.
The bad news is that the ester bonds that link the BPA monomers together are not very stable. Over time, these monomers break down, which releases BPA into whatever is surrounding it. Namely, our food and water.
An article published in Scientific American reports that when the plastic is heated (such as in the dishwasher or microwave) or used to store hot foods or liquids, the BPA leaks out 55 times faster than normal.
What Is BPA In?
The unfortunate thing in all this is that BPA is in a ton of stuff we use everyday. According to an article published in Fast Company Magazine, over 7 billion pounds of BPA was produced in 2007. And that’s for one year, mind you.
BPA can be found in:
- Canned Foods (as the chemical lining inside the can)
- Baby Bottles
- Cell Phones
- Water Bottles
This graph, put out by the Environmental Working Group, shows the levels of BPA they found in several foods.
The EWG reports that the three foods showing the highest levels of BPA is canned chicken soup, canned ravioli, and, most disturbingly, infant formula.
The Health Risks of BPA
So, what have we got to worry about here? Well, it’s not pretty. According to Scientific American, BPA is essentially a synthetic hormone, acting much like estrogen, so it’s possibly affecting our bodies in a myriad of ways.
The first is breast cancer. According to a new article just out in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (and also released from The Breast Cancer Fund), there is evidence that suggests a link between increasing instances of breast cancer and BPA, especially when women are exposed to BPA at a younger age.
Their advice is that women who are pregnant or nursing limit or eliminate their exposure to BPA. Children especially are susceptible to the adverse health effects of BPA, since their brains and bodies are still developing.
BPA has also been shown to decrease sperm count in lab studies, as well as impact testes development. And in this article published in TIME, BPA might also be causing diabetes, aggressiveness, heart disease, and decreased sensitivity to chemotherapy in cancer patients.
The EWG lists these studies showing the adverse health effects of BPA:
- A study showing that BPA exposures lead to an error in cell division called aneuploidy that causes spontaneous miscarriages, cancer, and birth defects in people, including Down Syndrome (Hunt et al. 2003).
- An investigation demonstrating that low doses of BPA spur both the formation and growth of fat cells, the two factors that drive obesity in humans (Masumo et al. 2002).
- A study linking low doses of BPA to insulin resistance, a risk factor for Type II diabetes (Alonso-Magdalena et al. 2006).
- A preliminary investigation linking BPA exposures to recurrent miscarriage in a small group of Japanese women, made potentially pivotal by its concordance with lab studies of BPA-induced chromosome damage that could well cause miscarriage (Sugiura-Ogasawara 2005).
Why Aren’t We Protected From BPA?
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the FDA established safety guidelines for BPA back in 1987. But, their standards are woefully out of date. The so called “safe levels” that the industry is currently going by is over 25 times the amount known to cause birth defects. The levels need to be much, much lower than they are.
Another disturbing fact is that the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s 2001 assessment of BPA relied heavily on industry-sponsored research. Not surprisingly, the research put out by the chemical companies showed that BPA causes no adverse effects.
This is just like using research sponsored by cigarette companies to see if a smoking habit is harmful on your lungs. Of course they’re going to say it’s safe!
According to Fast Company, there are only five companies in the United States that make BPA: Bayer, Dow, Hexion Speciality Chemicals, Sunoco, and SABIC Innovative Plastics. Together, they rake in $6 billion per year manufacturing BPA. So, it’s entirely in their best interests to show that BPA is safe.
They consistently deny that there’s any adverse health effects of BPA. But, here’s an illuminating quote from the Fast Company article:
But consider this: Of the more than 100 independently funded experiments on BPA, about 90% have found evidence of adverse health effects at levels similar to human exposure. On the other hand, every single industry-funded study ever conducted — 14 in all — has found no such effects.
How To Avoid BPA
- Use glass or stainless steel for storing food.
- You should never heat plastics in the microwave, put them in the dishwasher, or pour hot food or liquid into them. Use glass or stainless steel for storing hot items.
- Don’t use #3 and #7 plastics for food storage. #1, #2, and #5 is safe.
- Avoid canned food if you can. Cook with fresh ingredients.
- Don’t use plastic baby bottles; use glass, or one of the new plastics that are BPA-free.
I was downright shocked at how many studies show that BPA is dangerous to our bodies. And my research has only strengthened my resolve to eliminate plastic from my own life.
If you’d like to transition to a plastic-free kitchen, then I highly recommend checking out HealthyKitchenware.com. They sell stainless steel kitchen products that are fantastic. You can also see the product review I did of their Stainless Steel Lunch Container here.
You could also check out Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottles. Klean Kanteen contains only stainless steel (no BPA), and are a great alternative to plastic water bottles.
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