What is BPA? This stands for Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the ’60s. It is often found in plastics used for food and drink such as water bottles and make leak into the contents over time.
Is BPA Banned? The EU and Canada have banned BPA use in baby’s bottles (although not in all cans of infant food or formula). A 2010 report by the FDA flagged risks to foetuses and young children, however other than this it states that the low levels found in some foods are safe where adults are concerned.
Should we be worried? Because it’s so widely used, BPA can be hard to avoid and is still seen as a controversial chemical. Poisons are all about dosage – for example apple pips contain cyanide which can kill you however you would need to eat through an entire barrel full of pips to reach a deadly dose.
BPA is more likely to leak into food if the contents of the container are acidic or hot or the container has been cleaned with harsh products. As well as being ingested it can also be absorbed through the skin in minute amounts and is found in items such as receipts or cinema tickets.
The chemical can have hormone-like effects, it mimics oestrogen and so can act as an endocrine disruptor. According to the Food Standards Agency, the chemical is not a problem as our bodies can deal with it by eliminating it in our urine. Although theoretically there are risks, The US National Toxicology Program labelled these as largely negligible – minimal.
BPA and obesity? As endocrine disrupting chemicals can interfere with growth, there have been some concerns about links to obesity. A 2006 study demonstrated a link between environmental oestrogens and insulin resistance, which it states may further lead to a rise in type 2 diabetes and hypertension in its mouse subjects. However this study was not done in humans (for ethical reasons) and they would have been injecting the mice with very high levels of chemicals.
BPA and Breast Cancer? As a woman with a womb, if you are to start hormonal contraception you will NEVER be given an oestrogen only pill – it will either be combined oestrogen and progesterone or progesterone only. Why is this? Because unopposed oestrogen can have cancerous effects. Breast Cancer Research UK have significant concerns about the existing uncertainties that remain about BPA’s effects despite being declared safe. They are campaigning to ban BPA and have a section dedicated to fundraising and raising awareness about the issue. They have a section of their site dedicated to helping you reduce your exposure and a list of safer cleaning products and cosmetics.
The FDA states that as such low levels are present in foods, it may be labelled safe for now, based on the hundreds of studies that have so far been conducted in animals. However it is still an area of ongoing research and so to minimise your exposure it would be advisable to:
- buy BPA-free products
- eat less canned food
- avoid microwaving plastics or putting them in the dishwasher
- don’t wrap / microwave hot food with clingfilm
- use more glass, porcelain or stainless steel when it comes to storing food and liquids especially if they are hot