Bisphenol A (known as BPA) is a carbon-based, synthetic compound that is ubiquitous in modern-day life. It’s used in everything from shatter-resistant plastic water bottles and food storage containers to cash register receipts and canned food and drink liners. It’s even in coffee cans and beer kegs. Despite it being literally impossible to fully avoid, BPA toxic effects are now very well documented in medical literature. And the findings are not appetizing. The science shows this hormone-disrupting chemical causes widespread damage throughout our bodies.
And it may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but the damage can actually linger for generations, impacting an exposed person’s off-spring (and their kids and beyond). (1) With facts like these, it’s clear we need to avoid this chemical like the plague and work to get it off the market.
Let’s take a closer look at BPA toxic effects, along with where this harmful chemical is hiding. And, of course, the best ways to avoid it. And (great news!), I’ll introduce you to a first-of-its kind database that helps you better ID BPA threats in unexpected places.
Understanding BPA Toxic Effects & Estrogenic Legacy
Because manufacturers line most food and beverage cans with BPA, it is virtually impossible to avoid for most people who eat the “typical” American (processed/packaged food) diet. Dietary intake is believed to be the biggest exposure point in adults. (2) Taking that into account, it’s easy to see why this endocrine disruptor is now detected in the urine of 93 percent of Americans. (3)
But let’s take a look at how this bad news chemical became such a part of our daily lives in the first place. Invented in a lab in 1891, it became quite clear by the 1930s that BPA is actually an artificial evidence. This gave the scientific community the first clear evidence of toxicity. Despite that, after World War II, the chemical industry boomed manufacturers started creating hard polycarbonate plastic. (Polycarbonate falls in the #7 plastic category, although not all plastics in that category are polycarbonate.) Around the same time, it also became the go-to epoxy resin for metal food cans.
Decades of studies, advisory panels and problematic conflicts of interest on government panels investigating BPA followed. In 2007, the first large study showed that eating canned foods results in widespread BPA contamination. Environmental Working Group’s research concluded that the highest concentrations were found in canned soup, pastas and infant formula. The analysis also found that many Americans are exposed to BPA above levels shown to be harmful in laboratory studies. Still this is a product in tens of thousands of consumer products today, despite the BPA toxic health effects outlined next. (4)
BPA Toxic Effects: The Infertility Factor
One of the more disturbing BPA toxic effects is its role in infertility. In one of the most recent and robust studies, researchers from the University of Buea in Cameroon set out to see what the latest data has to say about the BPA-infertility connection. (5) Researchers uncovered some painfully shocking truths:
- It’s almost impossible to avoid BPA contact because, in addition to being in most packaged food items, it’s an environmental contaminant.
- BPA affects hormone balance and causes male reproductive dysfunction.
- BPA studies have shown that the most at-risk population is fetuses in-utero, a critical developmental stage for the embryo.
- BPA has been found to produce several defects in the embryo, such as feminization of male fetuses, atrophy of the testes and epididymides, increased prostate size, shortening of AGD, disruption of BTB, and alteration of adult sperm parameters (for example, sperm count, motility and density).
- BPA affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis by altering hormones in adults, which has been linked to sperm dysfunction.
- BPA induces oxidative stress in the testis and epididymis, which suggests antioxidant supplementation could help offset some of BPA-induced side effects.
- BPA also prevents proper embryo thyroid development.
- Men occupationally exposed to BPA had high blood/urinary BPA levels, and abnormal semen parameters.
- Men exposed to BPA also displayed reduced libido and erectile ejaculatory difficulties.
Women are also affected. A 2013 study from Jilin Medical College in China, found that “long-term exposure of female mammalians to BPA can lead to endocrine disorders, followed by the morphological and functional changes in ovary, uterus, vagina, and oviducts,” which have been linked to cause fertility issues. And these negative effects are seen in women who get pregnant naturally, as well as those who are trying to get pregnant via in-vitro fertilization (IVF). (6)
Another study out of the University of California, San Francisco discovered that BPA exposure in female patients interfered with oocyte (the early stage of the female ovum before it is released). The health of the oocyte was diminished during IVF and could prevent proper implantation and conception. (7)
In 2008, even the National Toxicology Program admitted it has some concern over current human exposure levels to BPA. The main concerns involved impacts on the prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children, along with brain and behavioral impacts at doses most people are exposed to every day. (8)
More BPA Toxic Effects: How BPA Damages Your Body
In addition to fertility concerns, recent research has linked BPA exposure to a wide variety of health issues, such as obesity and diabetes.
Vitamin D Drain
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to all sorts of health problems, including things like weight gain, cancer, insomnia, arthritis, heart disease, MS and other ills. And get this. A September 2016 breakthrough study found that exposure to BPA may lower levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream. Phthalates, another toxic hormone-disrupting chemical used in vinyl and in many fake fragrances, also seems to lower vitamin D levels in the body.
The study, published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that people who were exposed to larger amounts of phthalates were more likely to have low levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream than the participants who were exposed to smaller amounts of the hormone-disrupting chemicals. There also was an association between exposure to higher levels of BPA and reduced vitamin D levels in women, although the relationship was not statistically significant in men.
Researchers say hormone disruptors could mess with the active form of vitamin D in the body in a similar way they disrupt normal reproductive and thyroid function. (9)
In 2013, Kaiser Foundation Research Institute scientists who closely evaluated the urine BPA levels in 1,326 school-aged children from Shanghai linked BPA to obesity. They found that girls who had a higher urine BPA level were twice as likely to be obese than the average of the other children. (10)
In 2011, scientists published a study that revealed more specifics about BPA’s long link to heart disease. The PLOS One article found BPA actually changed the natural natural heartbeat signaling in female rates. This led to arrhythmia, an erratic beating that sometimes causes sudden cardiac death. (11)
A paper published in Acta Diabetologica highlighted found that “higher urinary BPA levels are found to be associated with pre-diabetes independent of traditional diabetes risk factors.”
This is particularly interesting because it clearly states, regardless of your diet and fitness levels, BPA has been shown to affect glucose metabolism through insulin resistance, pancreatic β-cell dysfunction, adipogenesis, inflammation and oxidative stress. (12)
Even small doses of the chemical can do unexpected damage. A 2013 French study concluded that low, daily BPA exposures damages tooth enamel. While this was a rat study, the findings suggest that the unhealthy changes dentists witness in 18 percent of children (white marks on teeth and a brittle enamel) could be brought on by early contact with BPA. (13)
BPA Toxic Effects: Where Is This Chemical Hiding?
You are probably most familiar with the term because plastic bottles line store shelves all across the nation advertising “BPA-free,” yet drinking bottles are just only one source of this dangerous endocrine disruptor.
In fact, most people are unfamiliar that it is used for a wide variety of industrial purposes, such as:
- Dental sealants & composites
- Medical devices
- Plastic dinnerware
- PVC piping
- Some baby bottles
BPA is also found in currency throughout the world in addition to cash register receipts issued on thermal paper and also surprisingly in food packaging. Exposure to BPA is considered dangerous as some studies show it may cause brain damage, and could have a damaging effect on the behavior and prostate glands of fetuses, infants and children.
Why You Can’t Trust ‘BPA-Free’ Plastics
BPA is not the only problem. As consumer concerns over these types of research studies reached fever pitch, the FDA finally banned the sale of baby bottles containing BPA in 2012.
Instead of bisphenol A, manufacturers are now using bisphenol S (BPS) and other chemicals, yet recent studies are proving that this new approach is just as bad (if not worse) than the original.
In fact, recent reports claim that more than 80 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine. And, according to 2013 study out of The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, even less than one part per trillion of BPS can disrupt a cell’s normal functioning, which could potentially lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, asthma, birth defects or even cancer.
According to lead author Professor Cheryl Watson:
“[Manufacturers] put ‘BPA-free’ on the label, which is true. The thing they neglected to tell you is that what they’ve substituted for BPA has not been tested for the same kinds of problems that BPA has been shown to cause. That’s a little bit sneaky.”
Other researchers are uncovering similar results. According to an article published this past year in Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, “Certain BPA derivatives are being considered as alternatives to BPA. However, certain of these related products display adverse effects that are similar to those of BPA.”
It seems that the problem is everywhere. In 2011, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a very shocking study where scientists evaluated 455 plastic products that were purchased from Albertsons, H-E-B, Randalls, Target, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods.
With the specific purpose of determining whether or not BPA-free products release chemicals having estrogenic activity (EA), which has been linked to serious health effects at extremely low “nanomolar” levels. The researchers reported that:
“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled — independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source — leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.”
The Best Ways to Avoid BPA Toxic Effects
At the end of the day, your best bet is to use glass and food-grade stainless steel. Both of these materials are completely safe and natural and easy to find. I recommend you start transitioning out your plastic containers and buy high-quality stainless steel (like food-grade, 18/8 stainless steel) and glass containers.
BPA in 16,000 Food & Drink Products
In June 2016, EWG used industry data to build a database of 16,000 food and drink items that could be packaged in materials harboring hormone-disrupting chemical BPA.
While it’s well-established that polycarbonate water bottles and most canned foods contain BPA, the EWG uncovered some other interesting BPA hiding spots. They include:
- The lids of glass jars for baby food, pickles, jelly, salsa and other condiments
- Aerosol cans for whipped toppings and nonstick sprays
- Bottles and tins of cooking oil
- Aluminum beverage cans
- Metal coffee cans
- Beer kegs
To avoid potential exposure and toxic BPA effects, search the database to avoid BPA-packaged products and find safer options.