What is it?
BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that is often used in plastics to make them clear and strong. It is also in epoxy resins that can line water pipes and food cans, and is used in receipt paper. Although BPA is the most well-known bisphenol, there are dozens of other bisphenols (often called BPA replacements) out there that are chemically similar to BPA. Many of them are used in the same way that BPA is and have very similar health effects. A common replacement is bisphenol S, or BPS.
What can it do to me?
BPA is a synthetic chemical that looks like estrogen to your body. It has been shown to screw with hormones including testosterone and thyroid hormones. Because of this, BPA has been tied to a large range of health problems like breast cancer, reduced sperm production, infertility, heart disease, early onset of puberty in girls, diabetes, and obesity (1). There is also concern about BPA's effect on brain and behavioral development in fetuses, infants and children (2, 3).
Where is this stuff?
BPA is all over the place. It is well known for being using in plastic containers like reusable water bottles and food storage containers. It is also frequently used in the lining of aluminum cans, like for canned beans, tomatoes, or soups. Other places BPA may be lurking is in receipt paper, electronics, dental sealants and orthodontic products, PVC, and sports safety equipment (think helmets, shin guards, wrist guards, etc.).
When products containing BPA, or any of the other BPA replacements, are heated, the chemicals can get into the food and water they are touching. This means it is more likely to leach into (leave the container and enter) food that is fatty - things like creamy and cheesy sauces or soups, meat, oily dips, leftover fries, and baby formula. It also leaches into acidic foods - like canned tomatoes, pineapple, and mandarin oranges.
How can I stay safe?
- Limit the amount of plastics that come into contact with food or water in your life. Try to choose glass, ceramic, or stainless steel food storage containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. Make sure any metal containers or bottles are not lined with resin (you can usually feel a waxy coating on the inside if they are). Remember, if a plastic product is marked "BPA-free" it is not necessarily safer: it is possible it contains a BPA alternative, such as BPS, which is chemically similar to BPA, and that scientists are starting to show have the same negative health effects.
- Avoid canned food as much as possible. If fresh produce isn't an option, frozen is better than canned (this article explains why). When you are looking for things like packaged tomatoes or fruit, look for options in glass jars or cartons - the papery boxes used for soups and other products.
- Never microwave in plastic! Microwaving makes it easier for the BPA to leave the container and get into your food. Instead, put your leftovers on a plate, then microwave them, and eat from the plate.
- Say no thanks to receipts. According to Johanna Rochester, PhD, Senior Scientist from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, "BPA that coats the receipt paper is absorbed through the skin. If you need to keep them, store them in a ziploc bag, as BPA can transfer to your wallet, money, and purse. Do not let children play with receipts or put them in their mouths. If you work in the service industry, wash your hands often (do not use hand sanitizer, as this can increase absorption) and ask your employer to provide latex gloves."
The good news?
BPA is known to leave your system pretty quickly. This means that if you stop coming into contact with it, most of the BPA will be out of your system within a day or two. Making small changes really does add up!
Not so fast...
Although BPA leaves the body quickly, we are constantly being exposed to it. BPA is especially harmful for babies and pregnant women. These are both times in life that are considered "critical periods" because so much is changing and growing quickly.
"During this time, hormones send signals to the fetus or baby and direct how the cells and systems grow and develop. BPA can disrupt this signalling and can alter how cells develop and reprogram systems. This reprogramming can manifest as diseases or disorders when the child grows up. Some studies show that if pregnant women are exposed to endocrine disruptors like BPA, it can lead to obesity in their children," said Dr. Rochester.
What's crazier is that things happening to you can even affect your baby's baby.
"Exposure to BPA can also affect future generations--your grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. This is because all of the eggs of a baby girl are present before she is born, and BPA can affect her eggs through epigenetic changes--permanent changes in how a gene works that can be inherited over generations. This can also happen in males," explained Dr. Rochester.
So, these tips are even more important for women who are pregnant, couples trying to get pregnant, and parents with infants, and those who are breastfeeding.
1) vom Saal F, Akingbemi B et al. Bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement: integration of mechanisms, effects in animals and potential to impact human health at current levels of exposure. Reproductive Toxicology. 2007;24(2):131-138.