The Clinic is an ongoing collaboration between the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF, Mission Loc@l and UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Prescriptions is a blog about health written by scientists at the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF.
What is all the brouhaha about bisphenol A (BPA), the multitasking chemical that’s excellent for hardening plastics and is used in the resin that lines the majority of canned foods? It is also present in water bottles, food storage containers, baby bottles, CDs, dental sealants and intravenous tubing. BPA is like the Blob — it’s everywhere. It can escape from its polycarbonate or epoxy-resin matrix and seep into the food and beverages we consume. BPA can also get on our hands from handling receipts or fax paper, and, surprisingly, on our private parts from using recycled toilet paper (is nothing sacred?).
In fact, measurable levels of BPA have been detected in 93 percent of Americans by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Enter the phrase “BPA health effects” into Google and you’ll get more than 1.5 million hits. Just what are these worrisome health effects? And how can exposure to BPA be minimized until stringent regulations are in place?
As an estrogenic compound, BPA has the capacity to disrupt the hormone systems that regulate our health and wellbeing, and although slow to recognize the problem, U.S. regulators are increasingly raising concerns — most notably at the start of last year, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reversed its earlier position, saying that newer studies “have led federal health officials to express some concern about the safety of BPA.”
The California Senate and U.S. Senate missed opportunities in 2010 to legislate removal of BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. Manufacturers, however, are starting to be responsive to consumer demand for BPA-free baby and child products — so look for bottles, sippy cups and other children’s products labeled “BPA free.”
Other states have taken a stronger stance and banned BPA from baby bottles and other children’s products. For example, the strongest ban will become effective this year in Connecticut, where BPA will not be allowed in infant formula containers, baby food cans or jars, or reusable food and beverage containers.
The problem with BPA is that havoc can result when a fetus, baby or small child is exposed at critical developmental stages to minuscule doses of chemicals that disrupt the hormone system. Lab animals exposed to BPA during development have demonstrated problems such as obesity, behavioral changes, diabetes, early-onset puberty, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, reproductive disorders and development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer. The National Academy of Sciences considers that humans are as sensitive as or more sensitive than the most sensitive animal species. In 2007 a consensus opinion of 38 scientists concluded that the levels of BPA that humans are currently exposed to exceed the presumed safe daily exposure.
Studies of the effects of BPA exposure on human cells and populations have linked the chemical to polycystic ovaries, male erectile dysfunction and impaired fertility, as well as behavioral disorders in children. For example, a small study at UCSF recently identified the first evidence that exposure to BPA in humans may compromise the quality of eggs retrieved for in vitro fertilization. “As blood levels of BPA in the women studied doubled, the percentage of eggs that fertilized normally declined by 50 percent, according to the research team,” the Stone Hearth Newsletters reported.
How to Eliminate BPA Exposure?
- Avoid canned foods. According to a report by the Breast Cancer Fund, the highest levels of BPA are found in canned coconut milk, soups, meats, beans, juices, fish and meals-in-a-can.
- Avoid beverages (beer, soda, juice) in epoxy-lined cans. Soda should be avoided anyway!
- Store or microwave your food in glass containers, and carry liquids in stainless steel bottles.
- Instead of buying canned food, consumers in the Mission and elsewhere are better off supporting businesses that supply beans and legumes in bulk and fresh or frozen vegetables.
Here is a printable map of fresh food sources in the Mission.