If you’re like many of my patients, you’re old enough to remember going to the beach and at least stepping on a piece of glass, or worse cutting your foot, from broken soda bottles. Then plastic started to be mass manufactured and happily most of those pieces of broken glass gradually disappeared from beaches, sidewalks, lawns, etc.
Our juice, milk and condiments all began to be repackaged in plastic. Not long after, microwave ovens were created along with frozen microwave food with their own special plastic trays to heat them in. However, we began to find out that superheating those plastic trays with microwave energy released a not so great chemical called Bisphenol A. Turns out, BPA acts just like the human hormone estrogen in our body and can cause some health havoc with male and female hormonal balances. Not only does microwave heat release it, but the very hot water temperatures of our dishwashers release this chemical from plastic baby bottles, food storage containers, glasses, etc.
What is the real risk of BPA to your health? Well, that’s what I’d like to share with you today. Let me begin by explaining what BPA is and what effects it has on your health and then we’ll talk about what you can do to minimize your risks from it.
What Is Bisphenol A?
In the United States alone more than 2.3 billion pounds of BPA is manufactured yearly! That’s a lot of plastic! Plastic is used to line cans to prevent erosion and contamination and is used to create safety for baby bottles and cups.
It was known almost right from the early days of plastic manufacturing, back in 1936, that BPA acts like estrogen in the human body. However, we weren’t really aware that the chemical was being released into surrounding food or liquid until much later with the widespread use of microwaves and hot dishwashers, which caused its release.
Research has shown that because BPA acts like the human hormone estrogen it can both promote breast cell cancer growth and decrease sperm counts (reducing testosterone) in rats. Further, the CDC had found BPA in 95% of all the urine samples they had tested in 2004 in a study aimed at determining the prevalence of certain chemicals in the human body.
Though it was found in levels 1,000 times lower than the recommended 50 mcg per kilogram of bodyweight, the CDC still surmised that BPA, because it is present in a constant, low level exposure, it could translate to health hazards over a period of time.
Other research lead by the U.S. National Toxicology Program in 2008, has concluded that BPA poses no health hazards to humans and that human exposure is too low to cause concern. However, their study also cited “limited and inconclusive evidence from laboratory animals” and expressed only “minimal concern” for BPA effects on breast tissue and/or earlier puberty ages for females. They expressed “some concern” for BPAs effect on the brain, behavioral issues, and the prostate gland but again concluded that “further studies” were needed to determine if any of these concerns translated to any significance for humans.
How Does Bisphenol A Affect You?
When the polycarbon resins from plastic are heated, they give off BPA at a level of 32 nanograms per hour. The CDC study shows that children had the greatest exposure, with teens having a higher level exposure than adults, presumably from all the food and drinks they come in contact with that are in plastic bottles or dishes.
The National Institute of Environmental Health also found that BPA definitively impairs sperm counts in male rats. The researchers on that study warned that it didn’t matter that BPA exposure was brief, i.e., clearing from the body through urination and that even short exposures can cause problems.
Other researchers claim that Americans have been exposed to far more BPA than what can cause ill effects in animals, i.e., levels that are 10 times lower than what is common human exposure in the U.S. Apparently, the more bodyweight you have, say as in an adult, the better you can tolerate BPA exposure. The upshot of is that infants and children are at the greatest risk for health hazards from it. It is also theorized that the recent rise in attention deficit disorder in children may be due to the prevalence of BPA exposure in children.
What Can You Do About BPA Risks?
Even though there is seemingly conflicting evidence from studies done on BPA, it appears that not enough research has been done to definitively state that there is no reason for concern in being exposed to BPA.
It is my recommendation, then, to steer clear of it. Check the bottom of your plastic bottled product. All polycarbonate (BPA containing) plastic bottles are either clear or colored and has a 7 stamped on the bottom. Many canned goods now, such as soup, can be purchased in cardboard cartons.
If you must buy foods or drinks packaged in polycarbonate plastics, do not heat these products inside the bottle or package. Instead, remove them and place them in a glass, metal or ceramic container. For example, for microwave foods – remove the frozen block of food and place it in a glass or ceramic dish and cover with wax (not plastic wrap) paper before microwaving.
Drinks, soups, vegetables, etc, that need to be heated can also be taken out of its plastic container and placed in a metal pan before heating.
Maintaining your health in today’s environment is getting harder and harder with all the chemical agents that are out there from pesticides to plastics. The best thing to minimize your health risk is to avoid the products that contain these problematic substances.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.