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While media coverage about BPA has decreased, your exposure to this toxin has not. And researchers continue to discover more about its health effects. If canned goods still fill your pantry shelves and you think BPA Free means nontoxic, read on. Because, there are 7 things you need to know about this endocrine disrupting toxin.
Let's start with the basics. Bisphenol A, or BPA is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy coatings. For a brief time in its disturbing history the chemical was considered for use in estrogen-replacement therapy!
Yep, you read that right. Before it was used in food packaging, it had potential to help postmenopausal women.
Now it lines most of the 131 billion food and beverage cans made in the U.S. annually, and in many types of plastic. More than a billion pounds of this toxin is produced in the United States every year.
Surveys by the CDC found that we're all carrying around a toxic load of bisphenols in our bodies. These chemicals enter your body from the foods you eat and the products you use.
YOU INGEST IT
Researchers agree that the main way you are exposed is through your diet.
While bisphenols can be found at low levels in dairy products, meat and and vegetables, probably because of the plastic components used to process these foods, the highest levels are found in canned foods. Drinking water from polycarbonate plastic bottles and using plastic to prepare meals can also expose you to a hefty dose.
YOU ABSORB IT THROUGH YOUR SKIN
Smaller amounts can also be absorbed through your skin from personal care and cleaning products. Although it's not an ingredient in these products, I'm guessing that BPA leaches out of the plastic containers that it's packaged in.
Also, the bisphenols in thermal paper, used to make receipts, flyers, tickets, mailing envelopes, and airplane boarding passes, can also be absorbed into your skin.
YOU BREATHE IT IN
The third way you are exposed is breathing it in. BPS, BPF, and BPA have been detected in indoor dust. BPA has been found in over 90% of house dust tested by researchers.
BPA is common in your homes indoor air because it is a volatile organic compound (evaporates at room temperature) that is released from PVC and vinyl products. But researchers think inhaling and ingesting house dust isn't a main source of exposure.
In the past several years several large food companies, like Campbell's and Del Monte have pledged to remove BPA from their can linings. There are also lots of companies now making BPA Free plastic bottles and food containers.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Don't be lulled into thinking removing BPA will make cans and plastics nontoxic.
Because, when you remove this toxin it's easiest and cheapest to put something similar back in. In this case two other types of bisphenols- like BPF and BPS, which tests have found have the same ability to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Studies on these BPA Free substitutes have found that almost all commercially available plastic products tested leached estrogen-like chemicals. In some cases, these products were worse than products with BPA.
There are also other chemicals of dubious safety lining your canned food besides BPA, BPS and BPF,
A 2016 study conducted by several environmental health organizations, called Buyer Beware Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food, found BPA in 67 percent of the cans tested (129 out of 192). The rest of the cans were lined with either acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Are these non-BPA linings any safer. Who knows. But they don't sound safer.
For example, acrylic resins can be made from styrene, ethyl acrylate and other acrylates, which are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and respiratory toxicity. And PVC-based coatings are made from vinyl acetate or vinyl chloride, which are carcinogens.
The EPA believes you can "safely" be exposed to 50 ug (micrograms)/kilogram/day of BPA. That's 5,000 nanograms.
A 2013 study looked at levels of BPA, BPF and BPS in 276 different foods. Bisphenols were found in 75% of the food samples, at an average amount of 4.38 nanograms/gram of food. Another study the same year reported an average of 9.0 ng/g of food.
That means in a 12 ounce (340 grams) can, an average of 3,060 nanograms of bisphenols leaches into your food.
The researchers used the levels they found in food to estimate bisphenol exposure rates in ng/kg body weight (bw)/day for Toddlers - 243 / Infants - 142 / Children - 117 / Teenagers - 64 / Adults - 59.
So, you're probably thinking, well shoot, that's way below the 5,000 ng daily exposure "safe" amount. Well, unfortunately, the EPA and the FDA are way behind what researchers are discovering.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE LEVEL OF EXPOSURE TO BISPHENOLS.
Hundreds of scientific studies have linked extremely small amounts of BPA, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and behavioral changes in children.
The ridiculous safe level guidelines for BPA exposure are based on the inaccurate assumption that this toxin doesn't stick around in your body. Your body is supposed to break down and excrete it within 6 hours of exposure.
BUT - This toxin is lipophilic, meaning it dissolves in fats and lipids, so it could potentially accumulate in your body fat or other lipid-rich tissues. In fact, it's been found in the body fat of research rodents and humans at levels linked to health issues like insulin resistance and body inflammation.
In women, an average of 3.2 nanograms BPA/gram of fat and 8.2 ng *chlorinated BPA/g of fat has been measures. Amounts stored in fat are even higher for children - at 10.7 ng BPA/g fat and 19.4 chlorinated BPA ng/g fat.
Toxins stored in your body fat stick around and have more time to damage your health. Because fat cells act much like an endocrine organ, they are prime targets for endocrine disrupting toxins.
Studies have found that BPA can program your bodies fat cells to store more fat. Its effects on your body fat has also been linked to obesity and diabetes.
*BPA is a contaminant found in drinking water. Most public water supplies are chlorinated to. kill bacteria, so the BPA in the water also becomes chlorinated.
Since bisphenols are hormonally active, they disrupt your endocrine system. Endocrine disrupting chemicals mess with your hormones, which are important chemical messengers in your body. What makes endocrine disrupting chemicals so dangerous is that they keep your body's natural hormones from doing their job.
Over 100 human studies and well over 300 animal studies have linked exposure to the following health effects.
Male and female infertility
Neurobehavioral problems in kids
Alters sex hormone levels
Type II diabetes
Male sexual dysfunction
Reduced sperm quality
Depressed immune system
Inflammation and oxidative stress
Since about two thirds of your exposure to BPA and BPA Free substitutes comes from food packaging, you can greatly reduce your exposure by avoiding food packaged in plastic and cans.
(Sometimes I have to choose between an organic product in plastic or a non-organic food in glass. Unless it's one of the "Dirty Dozen" like applesauce, I go with the item in glass.)
Reducing your exposure by ditching the can is a solution you can adopt that requires a little commitment. Canned foods are so convenient. Really, who has time to soak beans overnight or make soup from scratch?
Ditching cans is a process. It took me over a year to go almost can-free. I still occasionally buy a few canned foods like tuna.
I started with the worst offenders. Tomato-based products were the first to go. The acidity in tomatoes causes high levels of BPA to leach from can liners.
Now I buy soups and tomatoes packed in glass jars or waxed cardboard (Tetra-Paks). I really like Pomi Tomatoes in cardboard and Bionaturae’s tomatoes in glass jars. There are also many soup options now available in cardboard.
I also make soup from scratch. I like to make a big pot and then freeze individual portions in canning jars.
After tomato-based canned products I started ridding my life of canned soups, fruits and vegetables ( which I rarely used because of the salt content). I switched to frozen fruits and vegetables in the off seasons.
Yes, they come packaged in plastic. But for the entire length of their journey from food processing plant to grocery store they are kept frozen. So temperature is not a factor in leaching. Also, I found one study that tested the leaching of endocrine disrupters from frozen produce bags and did not find any.
I also invested in a small chest freezer and started freezing fresh fruit in canning jars.
Canned beans were the last thing to go because of all the soaking and cooking involved in using dry. I conquered this change by cooking up huge batches of beans and freezing them in canning jars.
Just remember, breaking the habit of buying food packaged in cans and plastic is a process that takes time and a little effort. The important thing is to find a process that works for you and just get started.