What’s So Bad About BPA?
Unless everything you eat comes straight from the farm to your table, chances are you’ve been exposed to bisphenol A (BPA). This is a component that has been in use in food packaging since the 1960s. The potential danger from this material is highlighted in numerous studies over the years. Now a new study demonstrates just how deadly BPAs can be to humans.
Our family practice doctors want to give you the background on this ubiquitous substance, and offer tips on ways you can minimize your contact with it.
What is BPA?
Bispehnol A is a common industrial chemical used in the production of plastics. It’s found in water and soft-drink bottles, the linings of canned foods and drinks, and the thermal paper receipts used in stores.
Research has demonstrated BPA can seep into the food or liquid stored in it. It has been found in the urine of nearly every American. BPA is known to disrupt the endocrine system in the body. It mimics the effects of estrogen and disrupts normal hormone function.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently maintains the BPA levels found in foods and packaging are “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). A study published last winter in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, however, found evidence that BPA measurements used by the FDA and other regulatory agencies may underestimate exposure levels by as much as 44 times.
Despite the FDA’s labeling of BPA as GRAS for general use, it banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and children’s sippy cups in 2012.
More than a decade of studies have linked BPA to such disorders as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obesity in children and adults. Other conditions associated with high levels of BPA in the body include low birth weight in infants, fetal abnormalities, asthma, and possibly sexual dysfunction in men.
The latest study
The most recent study on BPA was published this month in the journal JAMA Network Open. It found people who had higher levels of BPA in their urine were about 49 percent more likely to die over a 10-year period.
Researchers at the College of Public Health at University of Iowa conducted this study. They looked at 3,883 volunteers in the U.S. over the age of 20, from 2003-2008. Ten years later, 344 of the participants had died, including 71 from cardiovascular disease and 75 from cancer. Those with higher levels of BPA showed a higher risk of death from any cause than those with lower levels.
The findings held true even after researchers controlled for other possible causes.
In addition, the study found 90 percent of the urine samples researchers tested contain traces of BPA. This confirmed earlier studies, including one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This is another puzzle piece that compellingly speaks to the seriousness of the threat posed by these chemicals used in can linings and thermal papers,” Dr. Leonardo Trasande, director of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health, told CNN.
The BPA in thermal receipts is especially concerning these days, because so many people are using hand sanitizer when they go to the store, he added.
“A study found that if you handle these thermal paper receipts [after using] hand sanitizer, you absorb almost tenfold more bisphenols into your body.”
Of course, this latest study was observational, meaning the results were obtained by observing behavior and not in a controlled trial. The study authors, along with others, cautioned that more research is needed to confirm their findings. Nevertheless, past research has demonstrated the potential danger of BPA exposure.
How to reduce exposure
Although it’s nearly impossible to avoid BPA entirely, experts offer the following suggestions on ways to minimize contact.
- Avoid consumption of canned foods and bottled liquids as much as possible. Opt instead for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t microwave foods in plastic containers, even those marked “BPA free.” Little research is available on BPA replacements in packaging. They could prove just as damaging as BPA in the long run.
- Use glass or stainless steel for storing and microwaving foods.
- Avoid thermal paper receipts. Either handle them wearing gloves, ask the cashier to put it in your bag, or opt for emailed receipts.
The good news is that BPA quickly leaves the body once frequent contact with it is reduced, so anything you can do to avoid exposure will help.
If you have questions or concerns on any health issue, please call our office to schedule a Telehealth visit or office appointment.