Is BPA Safe or Not?
As you walk through the aisles of your local department store or browse for items online, odds are you’ve seen products labeled as being BPA free. But as the number of BPA-free products increases, some people may wonder what exactly BPA is and why we need to identify products that don’t have it. If we are so concerned with labeling products that are BPA free, it raises the question: is BPA safe or not?
What is BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical commonly used in the production of polycarbonate plastics, thermal paper, and epoxy resins. (1) It is also commonly used as an additive to eliminate an excessive amount of hydrochloric acid during the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). (2) This man-made chemical is used in the manufacturing process to add resilience and strength to plastic products. Because of its wide use in plastic manufacturing, BPA is one of the most commonly produced chemicals across the world. (1)
BPA was first developed in 1891, but it wasn’t mass produced until after World War II when the chemical industry boomed. During this time, manufacturers began to create polycarbonate plastics for consumer goods, using BPA in the production process. At the same time, BPA also became the go-to epoxy resin that manufacturers used in metal food cans. (3) With the increased use of BPA in the 1950s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved BPA in the 1960s. (4)
Health Risks of BPA
BPA has been used to create thousands and thousands of different products over the years; however, in decent decades, evidence has shown that BPA may contribute to some adverse health risks and conditions. The main reason for this is that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it imitates the hormone estrogen. (1) This can lead to a wide variety of issues, including the following:
Studies show a link between high levels of BPA and reproductive issues or infertility. Because of its unique phenolic structure (which is similar to the most abundant antioxidants), BPA has been shown to interact with estrogen receptors within the body. It can act as either an agonist (which binds and activates a receptor) or an antagonist (an agent that interferes with the action of another) through signaling pathways that are dependent on estrogen receptors. (2, 5, 6, 7)
Because of BPA’s ability to mimic estrogen and interact with estrogen receptors, it can play a role in the pathogenesis (the process where infection can turn into disease) of several different hormonal-related disorders. (2, 8) Some of these disorders include infertility in both men and women, early puberty, hormone-dependent tumors such as those that develop in prostate and breast cancers, and polycystic ovary syndrome. (2)
Health Risks for Fetuses
In addition to affecting fertility, studies have shown that BPA can produce a variety of defects in embryos. Some of these include the feminization of male fetuses, the gradual decline of effectiveness in testes and epididymides, and health effects on the brain or prostate glands, or with behavior. Findings suggest that some of these health risks may also affect infants and children. (3)
Other Health Risks of BPA
While studies are still ongoing in regard to how BPA affects the human body, there have been several hundred studies completed already. From both animal and human trials, studies show that BPA may be linked to a wide range of health risks, including (1, 9, 10):
- Breast and other types of cancer
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Neurobehavioral development in children
Because BPA was so widely used for so long before the discovery of its health risks, many people have been exposed to high levels of BPA. In fact, 93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their body. (11) Even with the knowledge of BPA’s potential toxicity, an estimated 1 million pounds of BPA are still released into the environment each year. (1) With continued potential exposure to BPA and its health effects, it is important to recognize just where we can find BPA and how we can avoid it.
Common BPA Sources
There has been a growing concern about BPA and its health effects over the last few decades. As a result, many companies have changed their manufacturing processes to remove BPA. In addition, the FDA has outlawed the use of BPA in the production of baby-related products. (12) However, in 2008, the FDA released a report stating that the levels of BPA in food contact materials are still safe for consumers. In 2014, the FDA reviewed their report and any additional findings from studies only to conclude that BPA is still safe in current production levels. (4)
Because manufacturers can still use BPA in the production of most products, it is practically impossible to avoid BPA completely. These are just some of the most common sources of BPA today (1, 2, 3, 10, 11):
- Plastic food storage containers
- Some medical devices
- Inner lining of metal-based food cans
- Inner lining of metal-based beverage cans, like soda and beer
- Reusable plastic water bottles
- Coffee cans
- Cash register receipts
- Some dental sealants and composites
- Some toys
- Some baby bottles
- Lids for glass jars of baby food, salsas, pickles, jelly, etc.
- Plastic dinnerware
- Aerosol cans used for whipped toppings and non-stick sprays
- Infant formula
As you can see from the list above, BPA is still used in the production of thousands of products today. While the main source of our exposure to BPA is through our diet, BPA can also be found in water, air, and dust. (11)
How to Reduce Your Exposure to BPA
- Eat more fresh foods, and not those from metal cans
- Avoid plastics marked with recycling numbers 3 or 7, as these often contain BPA
- Avoid plastics marked with PC
- Use products that are labeled as BPA free
- Use glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers for hot liquids and foods, and to store your food
- Use BPA-free, stainless steel, or glass reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones
- Avoid handling receipts printed on thermal paper
Avoid Heating Up Plastic Containers
The main reason why our diet is the primary source of BPA exposure is due to the use of plastic food storage containers. While the general use of these containers won’t add BPA to our diets, heating up the plastic containers will. Research has found that high temperatures can cause BPA to leach out from the plastic containers and into food.
If you still use plastic containers that contain BPA, try to avoid putting the plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher. The heat from both devices can cause the plastic to break down and allow BPA to leach into your food. (1, 10)
BPA-Free Is Not Always Safe
While it is great that many products no longer contain BPA, some manufacturers are replacing BPA in their production process with other bisphenols. Because manufacturers don’t use BPA in their production process, they can label their products as BPA-free, even if they still contain BPS or BPF. (3)
Why does this matter? Because BPS and BPF both have similar molecular structures to BPA. This means that BPS and BPF can be expected to have similar effects as BPS. In fact, one study on zebrafish found that BPA, BPS, and BPF all activated all estrogen receptors. (13) This means that even though we may be reducing our exposure to BPA, we may still experience the same health risks and issues due to the use of BPS and BPF as an alternative.
However, not all products that are labeled as BPA-free contain BPS or BPF. You can still reduce your exposure to BPA by eliminating products that use BPA. There are also some companies that manufacture products without the use of any bisphenols, which is ideal. One of these companies is Eastman, which produces Tritan™ plastic without any bisphenols or harmful chemicals. Many companies, including Synergy Science™, have switched to Tritan™ plastic to provide better and safer products.
A Healthier, Chemical-Free Life
Over recent decades, many people have asked: Is BPA safe or not? While studies are still ongoing, the initial findings certainly validate the concerns that many people have about using products that contain BPA. Even though it is nearly impossible to avoid BPA, even with the growing concerns, there are ways that we can reduce exposure and increase our chances of living healthier, more chemical-free lives.