A recent study from the University of Exeter has found traces of bisphenol A (BPA) in 86 percent of teenagers. This is concerning, since BPA is a known hormone-disrupting chemical that imitates female sex hormones and has been linked to breast and prostate cancers, as well as low sperm counts and sperm disfigurements in men.
Despite the bad reputation bisphenol A has gained, BPA continues to be used in a variety of plastic containers, water bottles, food cans, dental floss, and heat-resistant papers, which means that humans come into contact with it daily.
BPA, which has been used since the 1960s, is often found in the white lining inside tinned foods, drinks cans and bottle tops. Even till receipts, DVDs and processed foods are known to contain it.
Researchers studied 94 teenagers and found it was almost impossible for them to avoid BPA products.
While some research has suggested that low levels of BPA don’t cause any harm, the European Commission has recently ruled it as a threat to human health because of its effect on people’s hormones.
In Canada and some American states it is no longer used in baby bottles, and last month the Commission decided to restrict its use in food packaging because of the potential side effects.
The study’s co-author Professor Lorna Harries, from the university’s medical school, said: ‘Most people are exposed to BPA on a daily basis. In this study, our student researchers have discovered that at the present time, given current labelling laws, it is difficult to avoid exposure by altering our diet. In an ideal world, we would have a choice over what we put into our bodies. At the present time, since it is difficult to identify which foods and packaging contain BPA, it is not possible to make that choice.’
The European Chemicals Agency last year reclassified BPA as a substance of ‘very high concern’ because of its ‘probable serious effects’ on human health.
This study primarily set out to see if it was possible to reduce a persons BPA level by simply altering their dietary choices. It was designed to be a ‘real-world setting’, unlike how the prior studies that have focused on families and related individuals, who likely share sources of BPA, and participated in strict dietary interventions that are not realistically sustainable.
From the discussion:
“Our intervention is a ‘real-world’ diet, designed to a set of guidelines (such as reduction in the usage of tinned foods or foods with high levels of processing), rather than the strict, prescribed diets that have been used in other studies, which suggested that it was possible for participants to reduce their urinary BPA excretion by approximately 60% in a period of just 3 days. In our self-designed, self-administered study this was unachievable.”
Participants included 94 students between the ages of 17 and 19 from schools in southwestern England. They followed a BPA-reduction diet for one week.
This included switching to stainless steel and glass food containers, not microwaving food in plastic, washing their hands after handling receipts, avoiding canned foods and takeout in plastic, and using a coffee filter or percolator instead of plastic coffee makers that may contain polycarbonate-based water tanks and phthalate-based tubing. The students gave urine samples before and after the interventions.
The study concluded that participants were unable to achieve a reduction in their BPA in a seven day period:
“Participants were unable to achieve a reduction in their urinary BPA over the 7-day trial period, despite good compliance to supplied guidelines.”
This alarming discovery goes to show that BPA is so ubiquitous in our environment that, even when we take measures to minimize exposure, it’s impossible to avoid entirely. Where it’s coming from, however, is unclear.
The study authors write that exposure can happen through dust ingestion and skin absorption, and that BPA can leach into food from polycarbonate or epoxy resins after manufacture.