What is BPA? Should I be worried?

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Chances are, you’ve heard of BPA but do you really know what it is? What is BPA?

It is an industrial chemical Bisphenol A and has been used to make certain plastics and resins used in everyday products for over five decades now; since the 1960s in fact. Chances also are you’ve knowingly or unknowingly overlooked BPA lurking within the composition of a favored plastic product especially if it wasn’t intended to store food. If so, it is time now that you took a hard look at BPA and empowered yourself with information needed to make an informed choice about your exposure to it.

For starters; where is BPA commonly used?

  • In hard and lightweight plastic reusable food containers, water bottles, baby bottles, plastic tableware and other plastic goods. You might find them marked either ‘PC’ or with the number ‘7’ which denotes polycarbonate.
  • Also used in the plastic that lines most food and drinks cans to prevent them from corroding.
  • In toiletries and feminine hygiene products
  • As a hardener in many plastic products like CDs, DVDs, helmets, household electronic, toys and sports equipment, eyeglass lenses, dental filling sealants and automobile parts
  • As a coating on thermal paper, the kind that is used to print receipts at ATMs and cash registers the world over.

And how does it get into our body?

BPA commonly migrates into food and drink through containers and is then ingested. Unsurprisingly, acidic foods like tomatoes cause even more migration of BPA from can linings into the food. The chemical can also be absorbed through the skin, though this is generally lower. It is more common that fingers used to handle thermal paper receipts or hard plastics may carry transferred BPA into the mouth. Babies are additionally likely to expose themselves to BPA when they put plastic toys into their mouths.

So how is BPA harmful to health?

BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that mimics or interferes with estrogen and other hormones in the body. Studies add to the growing evidence that such chemicals have the potential to impact human biology in many ways in adults , children and babies. Simply explained, our bodies are sensitive to changes in hormone levels and that is why BPA’s ability to mimic estrogen affects health.

Among major areas of concern are an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, impact on the brain and obesity in adults. BPA exposure during early life may influence birth weight, behavior, hormonal development, and lead to higher cancer risk in later life. Early childhood exposure to BPA is also linked to wheezing in later childhood Reproductive health is impacted by increased exposure to BPA with higher instances of polycystic ovary syndrome, premature deliveries and increased infertility in both men and women.

What is the controversy around BPA safety?

Partial bans on BPA products exist in some countries including France, Canada, China and Malaysia. The EU bans baby bottles with BPA. However, recently EU and US regulatory bodies announced that BPA is safe at the levels currently allowed in the packaging industry, basing their conclusions on industry funded studies carried out.

An analysis in 2006 explained that all 11 industry-funded studies found BPA had no significant effect, giving a 100% result, while 109 of 119 studies that had no industry funding did indeed find ill-effects of BPA contamination on general health even at lower levels.

How should you minimize BPA exposure?

Obviously avoiding BPA completely is impossible and occasional exposure to it is no cause for alarm. Some effective steps to help minimize risk are:

  • Use glass bottles instead of plastic wherever possible
  • Avoid canned or packaged food, opting for jars or fresh and frozen food instead.
  • Don’t put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher
  • Buy BPA free plastic toys and equipment for babies or children
  • Limit contact with receipts and wash your hands frequently if you do need to handle them.
  • Choose powdered milk formula over packaged liquid infant formula
  • Change all regular plastic containers for BPA-free ones.

The bottom line is that despite confusion and controversy that surrounds levels of exposure; growing evidence suggests there are adverse effects from BPA contamination on human health and you will be prudent to take steps towards minimizing your risk