Just Say NO! to BPA

by Sana Sandström

Does it seem like infertility, low sperm count, early puberty, certain male birth defects, breast and prostrate cancer are on the rise? Actually they are and the villain might be environmental contaminants like BPA, DEHP and similar endocrine disruptors. The evidence linking exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals with infertility, cancers and malformations is strong.

Endocrine Disruptors

What is an endocrine disruptor? Bisphenol A, or BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the hormone system, causing problems, particularly when exposures occur during gestation or in early life.

How do these chemicals affect people? Endocrine disruptors act like hormones and interfere with our body's natural hormone functions. Trace amounts of chemicals like BPA have been associated with a wide range of adverse health effects, including increased risk of breast and prostate cancer (in animal models), infertility in men and women, early puberty in girls, metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes and obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as ADHD. Endocrine disruptors like BPA act cumulatively, adding to your own baselines of hormones and to each other.

Dr. Shanna Swan, Director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry discovered in a study on prenatal and phthalates that preschool aged boys exposed to higher levels while in the womb played in a less masculine manner.4

How much is safe? Based on what we know, chemicals like BPA and phthalates are hormone disruptors. Potentially they can effects to your body's hormone systems. We don't know just what level is safe and while this is being determined, people can choose to lower their levels of exposure.

Food Packaging Contains Dangerous Levels of BPA

BPA, is one of the most pervasive chemicals in modern life. It is the chemical building block for clear, shatterproof polycarbonate plastic, which is used in baby bottles, water bottles and food storage containers. It is also in the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans, including infant formula cans.

A recent peer-reviewed study published in, conducted by Breast Cancer Fund2 and Silent Spring Institute3, tried reducing the levels of these chemicals in test families with a few simple changes in the kitchen. Study participants ate a diet that avoided contact with BPA-containing food packaging, such as canned food and polycarbonate plastic.1

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel, Director of Research at the Silent Spring Institute and co-author of the study told Pregnancy.org, "For the first time we have a really clear picture of how much it can be reduced. We have clear evidence that food packaging is the main source of DEHP, BPA and we found that just three days of fresh food diet with limited packaging reduced the level in less than half. Reductions were even more pronounced for the highest exposures. See charts of results on next page.

Based on what we know, chemicals like BPA and phthalates are hormone disruptors. Potentially they can cause effects. We don't know just what level is safe and while this is being determined, people may want to choose to lower their levels of exposure."

Play it Safe and Reduce Your Exposure

slicing red peppersHere are six simple ways to play it safe and reduce your exposure while scientists continue to study the health effect of these chemicals:

Fresh is best. BPA and phthalates can migrate from the linings of cans and plastic packaging into food and drinks. While it's not practical to avoid food packaging altogether, opt for fresh or frozen instead of canned food as much as possible.

Eat in. Studies have shown that people who eat more meals prepared outside the home have higher levels of BPA. To reduce your exposure, consider cooking more meals at home with fresh ingredients. When you do eat out, choose restaurants that use fresh ingredients.

Store it safely. Food and drinks stored in plastic can collect chemicals from the containers, especially if the foods are fatty or acidic. Next time, try storing your leftovers in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic.

Don't microwave in plastic. Warmer temperatures increase the rate of chemicals leaching into food or drinks. So use heat-resistant glass or ceramic containers when you microwave, or heat your food on the stove. The label "microwave safe" means safety for the container, not your health.

Brew the old-fashioned way. Automatic coffee makers may have BPA and phthalates in their plastic containers and tubing. When you brew your coffee, consider using a French press to get your buzz without the BPA.

Take action. While we can each take steps to reduce our own exposure, it's important to join with other to call for healthier food packaging for everyone. Breast Cancer Fund and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families are leading national efforts to get chemicals of concern out of food packaging and other products.

Our Members Ask

Question: Did you find heightened risks remain for infants and toddlers with BPA within formula (or formula cans), toys, juices, etc.?

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: While no babies were on this study, I would say that based on levels reported on formula and juices, that is a significant source of exposure to BPA for formula fed infants.

Question: "What specifically should parents be looking for in regards to more hidden sources of BPA exposure for their children?"

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "Canned food and plastic food packaging are the major sources. DEHP is in some kids' toys but considerably less than several years ago. In our study, we changed the food without changing toys and say an obvious decrease in levels."

Question: "When we are eating out, what would be a good choice?"

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "Try to identify restaurants that are following basic guidelines that our test families followed in the intervention -- fresh foods, no cans, limited plastics for storage."

Question: "What is a safe way for families to store leftovers?"

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "I use porcelan bowls and cover with a glass or ceramic plate. Another option is glass containers with plastic lids or loosely placed in a plastic bag. The food shouldn't touch lids."

Question: "What cooking utensils -- specifically spatulas, ladles, slotted spoons for pastas -- can I use with my teflon cookware to avoid scratches? I discovered that some of these were made with BPA."

"Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "Both Pthalates and BPA are likely present in those and we have concerns, as well, about the non-stick pots and pans. I recommend limiting pots and pans that are non-stick. If you must use one, wood is a good alternative for the utensils."

Question: "I prepared meals mostly from fresh produce and bulk grains and legumes. But I do use canned vegetables and coconut milk. Are there safer alternatives than cans?"

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "Glass is better; the lid may contain BPA but at least it is a smaller surface area and not in constant contact with the food. Tetra packs containing polyethylene might not have BPA but may have other disruptors that might be harmful. Many initiatives to encourage manufacturers to switch to alternative are out there. Probably we will see cans labelled BPA free in the near future."

Question: "How about coffee? I'm from Seattle and coffee consumption is a HUGE concern. Can we still have our Starbucks while maintaining a low input of BPA?"

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "When looking for a coffee shop, check that most parts are stainless steel or glass. Plastic liners and tubing could be sources of BPA. Your best bet is a French press."

Question: What message and actions would you most like readers of this article to take away?

Dr. RuthAnn Rudel answers: "On a personal level, five or six simple changes can substantially lower your exposure to BPA and phthalates. On a regulatory level, eliminate BPA and phthalates from food packaging to reduce everyone's exposure and mandate that substitute chemicals be tested for safety. As a society, advocate for better safety evaluation before use, especially food packaging and kids toys."

Study Results

BPA levels decline during 3-day fresh food diet

pthalate levels decline during 3-day fresh food diet

1. New study shows fresh food diet reduces levels of hormone disruptors BPA and DEHP This study was conducted by Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute, with funding from the Passport Foundation.
2. Silent Spring Institute is a scientific research organization studying links between the environment and women's health.
3. The Breast Cancer Fund works to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments.
4. Phthalates Affect the Way Our Boys Play

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