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What is BPA and is it bad for me?
We’ve been hearing a lot about BPA in recent years.
It seems as if suddenly everything is marked “BPA-free”, but what is it and is it harmful to you and your family?
Let me start by saying that all plastic bottles sold at Bottiful Home are made from PET (polyethylene), a plastic that has never contained BPA.
What is BPA?
BPA (bisphenol A) is a synthetic compound that was first discovered in the 1890s.
In the 1950s, scientists realized BPA made resilient plastics. This was great, because it helped keep plastic bottles from cracking.
Now BPA is everywhere. It’s used in plastics for water bottles, baby bottles, food containers, and more.
It’s also added to the epoxy resin that’s sprayed inside metal cans to keep them from corroding and leaking.
BPA is added to the plastics that are used in sports equipment, eyeglass lenses, dental filling sealants, CDs and DVDs, feminine hygiene products, and thermal printer receipts.
The stuff’s everywhere, including in our bodies.
Is BPA harmful?
The brief answer is yes.
The longer answer is a bit more complex, of course.
First, there’s some argument about how much is too much.
The FDA says that very limited exposure in foods is okay, but according to an article from the American Journal of Public Health, “new research on very low-dose exposure to BPA suggests an association with adverse health effects.” 1 The article says that exposure has been associated with breast and prostate cancer, obesity, reproductive issues, and neurobehavioral troubles.
Okay, brace yourself for the “profit over people” issue.
BPA was discovered in the 1890s. In the 1930s, a British medical researcher named Edward Charles Dodds was looking for a synthetic estrogen. He found BPA.
He kept testing compounds related to BPA until he discovered DES (diethylstilbestrol). This was a great synthetic estrogen.
Suddenly, it was being given to pregnant women, women with menstrual issues, and for the prevention of miscarriages. It was injected into cattle to produce more meat. And on and on.
All of this although there were persistent rumors of cancers being caused by DES, including rare vaginal cancers in young women whose mothers took DES.
It wasn’t until 1979 that the FDA banned DES for all uses, but that was after many people, especially women, got ill.
BPA didn’t make it into the drug world like its cousin.
Shortly after Dodds discovered the estrogenic effects of BPA, scientists in the US and Europe discovered the amazing plastic properties of the chemical. By the early 1950s, the chemical was in mass production and showed up everywhere.
It made plastic as clear as glass and as hard as steel.
By the 1970s, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) started looking at workers who were developing cancer after large-scale exposure.
In 1977, they started the first carcinogenic study of BPA.
I’m going to stop there.
There was a lot of politics around BPA throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and into the ‘90s. Read the article mentioned above (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2774166/) to understand how private industry, Congress, and the FDA worked together to keep the very lucrative BPA flowing out of chemical plants.
The BPA Problem Shows
In 1993, researchers at Stanford University noticed that BPA was leaching from their plastic flasks.
They were endocrinologists, so the study of estrogen-like compounds was right in their wheelhouse.
More studies, more information, and soon everyone knows BPA is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it affects the hormones of the endocrine system, particularly estrogens.
The BPA Study War
In 2004, the Harvard Center published a report that said that research “cast doubt on suggestions of significant physical or functional impairment.” 2
Less than a year later, some of the scientists involved in the original report, which had been changed, criticized the Harvard Center report for ingrown research.
They also noted that where funding came from seemed to influence the results of the studies.
Between 1997 and 2005, there were 115 studies conducted all over the world. 104 were funded by governments, and 90% showed that there were some effects from exposure to BPA. The 11 studies funded by corporations showed no effects. None of the 11 discovered any effects.
This was the start of the downfall of BPA.
The interested parties finally had been exposed and consumers started asking questions, including, “Can I get that without BPA?”
Is BPA Bad for Me?
Yes, it’s bad for you, your children, unborn children, and the environment.
There’s more than enough studies to suggest that.
But keep in mind, we don’t know how much exposure you need in order for it to affect your health.
And you also don’t know exactly how much you’re exposed.
For example, if you drink five drinks from a can and eat two canned foods each day, you’re getting more exposure than someone who drinks only water from a filtered source and eats only fresh foods.
But there’s a lot of ground between those two extremes.
So, even with all the negative suggestive information available to date, there isn’t much actionable information yet, except maybe to suggest reducing your exposure where you can.
Here’s a huge question: Can BPA be absorbed through the skin or do I have to ingest it? Yes, it appears BPA can be absorbed through the skin.
I don’t want to dig too deep into the studies that show this, but they studied people who handled a lot of thermal receipts. BPA is used on thermal paper. There is evidence BPA can be absorbed through the skin. Researchers haven’t drawn conclusions on if that BPA has the same effects as ingested BPA.
If you’re interested, here are a couple of articles about this:
Skin Absorption of Bisphenol A and Its Alternatives in Thermal Paper – National Institutes of Health
Bisphenol A goes through the skin – Nature
The Least You Need to Know About BPA
According to the most current research, BPA messes with the reproductive systems of fetuses, babies, and women.
It affects the prostate glands of fetal and infant boys.
There’s a connection to obesity and breast and prostate cancers.
What should you do? Eliminate BPA where you can. Look at all the plastics and food and beverage cans in your home to see if they’re BPA-free. If they aren’t, begin making changes with the food items. While the jury’s still out on whether ingested BPA has a more significant impact on health than absorbed BPA, common sense tells me, it’s probable.
Also, don’t forget that aluminum soda cans are lined with BPA-containing plastic to prevent leakage and spoilage.
BPA is everywhere and nearly everyone in the industrialized world tests positive for BPA.
That’s changing quickly.
There are lots of BPA-free products available.
Even if you don’t choose items from Bottiful Home, it’s a good idea to look for BPA-free replacements for the plastics in your home.
As always, I encourage you to do your own research, reach your own conclusions and make up your own mind.
And always remember that correlation does not mean causation.
That means, just because something (BPA) is correlated to something else (hormonal, physical and health issues) does not necessarily mean one causes the other.
There are many variables that cannot be perfectly isolated.
Oh, and make sure when you do your research that you consider the source of the funding.
We won’t assume funding sources always require an outcome favorable to them, but you should certainly consider that possibility.
In the case of BPA there seems to be enough evidence to, at the very least, cause you to pause and ask yourself if this issue matters to you and what, if anything, you’re willing to do about it.
Keeping your family safe and healthy is often not as straightforward as we would like.
We’ve come a long way from believing that smoking cigarettes or drinking cocaine-infused beverages are good for us.
But we still have some mysteries to solve and progress to make.
Here’s to your health and progress!