If you live in the U.S. and eat any packaged foods at all, you are probably also consuming the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA. Now, for the first time, scientists have made a startling discovery about the chemical that could help explain the epidemic of heart disease and diabetes in this country.
This chemical is bad news. It looks like the hormone estrogen. And when it gets into your blood stream, you're in trouble. Extra estrogen will make you fat, slow and tired. It can even wipe out your sex life. If it stays in your blood long term it can trigger cancer or other diseases.
Previous studies have found BPA causes precancerous conditions, kidney and developmental problems in animals. But new research, published in the September 17th edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows that humans could be walking time bombs of health problems due to "normal" exposures to BPA.
British researcher David Melzer, M.B., Ph.D., of Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, and colleagues measured the BPA found in the urine of 1,455 adults between the ages of 18 and 74 years, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which was gathered in 2003 and 2004. Then they looked at the health status of these people whom the scientists note in the JAMA report are "representative of the adult U.S. population".
The results? Dr. Melzer and his team found that average BPA concentrations, adjusted for age and sex, were higher in those diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.In fact, even a slightly raised BPA concentration was associated with a 39 percent increased risk of having cardiovascular disease (angina, coronary heart disease, or heart attack combined) and diabetes.
Those with the highest BPA concentration had nearly three times the odds of heart disease and 2.4 times the risk of diabetes when compared with those with the lowest levels. What's more, higher levels of BPA concentrations were also associated with abnormally elevated levels of three liver enzymes.
"These findings add to the evidence suggesting adverse effects of low-dose BPA in animals. Independent replication and follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings and to provide evidence on whether the associations are causal," the authors said in a statement to the media."Given the substantial negative effects on adult health that may be associated with increased BPA concentrations and also given the potential for reducing human exposure, our findings deserve scientific follow-up."
But is it too little too late?
There was concern earlier this year that huge numbers of children were being exposed to BPA because it is known to leach out of hard polycarbonate plastics that are used widely in baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles. The Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program released a report on the safety of the chemical and warned BPA could cause health and developmental problems. "Because these effects in animals occur at bisphenol A exposure levels similar to those experienced by humans, the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed," the report concluded.
Last spring, consumers bombarded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with demands to know if BPA-containing baby and food products are safe. The government agency claimed to have investigated the matter. But, despite dozens of animal studies showing the chemical is a danger to health, the FDA ruled in August there was insufficient evidence to support banning BPA from baby and food products.
Clearly, mainstream medicine is now recognizing that the chemical contaminant is a real health concern.
In the JAMA editorial that accompanies the new BPA study, Frederick S. von Saal, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and John Peterson Myers, Ph.D., of Environmental Health Sciences, Charlottesville, Va., point out that BPA production has reached about 7 billion pounds per year and the chemical has caused massive planetary contamination. Why? Consider the fact that products containing BPA, like microwavable food containers, often end up in landfills and dumped into water ecosystem. Already, Canada has declared the chemical to be a major worldwide pollutant.
"The good news is that government action to reduce exposures may offer an effective intervention for improving health and reducing the burden of some of the most consequential human health problems. Thus, even while awaiting confirmation of the findings of Lang et al, decreasing exposure to BPA and developing alternatives to its use are the logical next steps to minimize risk to public health," Dr. von Saal and Dr. Myers state in the editorial.
Considering U.S. citizens have been waiting for years for the government to even acknowledge that BPA is a health hazard, it makes little sense to rely on the FDA to to protect us from the chemical. Instead, there are ways to take control of your and your family's exposure to BPA.
What Can I do to Avoid Bisphenol-A?
Avoid baby formula as much as possible.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) a non-profit organization comprised of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers who have been in the forefront of pointing out the potential health and environmental hazards of BPA, all U.S. manufacturers of formula use a BPA containing lining on the metal part of their containers. Opt for breastfeeding exclusively if possible, or use a dry formula that is mixed with filtered water.
Eat fresh, not canned, food.
The EWG has found that food and drink cans are lined with BPA-laden plastic. Canned soups and spaghettis have the highest levels.
Pay attention to the kind of plastics you use for food and drink.
The plastics that have the most BPA are those made of polycarbonate plastic -- they are usually rigid and transparent and used for toddler cups, baby bottles, food storage containers and water bottles. They are frequently marked on the bottom with the letters "PC" and the recycling number 7. Plastics with the recycling numbers 1, 2 and 4 on the bottom are better choices.
Choose safe bottles.
Using glass baby bottles is best. Metal water bottles may not be free from BPA because many are lined with a plastic coating that contains the chemical. The EWG advises using stainless steel bottles that don't have a plastic liner.
Don't use plastic containers to heat food in microwaves.
Ceramic and glass are safe alternatives.
However, avoiding BPA doesn't automatically protect your health. In fact, consumer health advocate Mike Adams says the attention to the plastics issue could be seen as a distraction from the larger problem -- the danger that is often inside the BPA-laden containers. "For example, right now some of the top infant formula products sold in the United States are contaminated with hexane residues, and many infant products are made with as much as 50 percent refined sugars and corn syrup solids. Parents need to pay as much attention to what's inside the bottle as they do the bottle itself."