I was recently reading a New York Times article entitled “In Plastics and Cans, a Threat to Women,” (1) which talked about some of the more recent research that has been showing the reproductive effects of Bisphenol A, or BPA. The studies quoted in this article show that BPA restricts development of healthy eggs in animal models. Exposure to BPA at any time of life: in the womb, in childhood, and in adulthood all will have a negative effect on female fertility. In a study conducted on discarded eggs from an IVF clinic, they found “Higher levels of BPA were linked to stunted human oocytes, as well as indications of chromosomal damage.” Higher serum levels of BPA have also been linked to greater risk of miscarriage.(2) Studies have also found BPA to have a negative impact on male reproductive function, most profoundly when exposure occurs in utero. Effects on male fetuses included, among other issues, feminization and testicular atrophe. (3)
Although reproductive problems are only one of the ways in which BPA can affect human health (it has also been associated with diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems and weight gain), this issue is particularly alarming because of the profound impact it can have on our and our children’s quality of life. Infertility is a huge issue in the United States, and it is important for us to look to the future to protect the reproductive health of our children. The choices we make for our children during pregnancy and in their early years can profoundly influence their overall health and reproductive capability in the future. So how can we minimize exposure to and negative effects from BPA?
BPA is an extremely common compound; 5-6 billion tons are produced annually worldwide. The CDC estimates that 93% of people in this country have detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstream, so most of us are coming into contact with it on a regular basis. It can be found in:
Protective layers of canned food containers
wine vat linings
lining water pipes
plastic food storage containers
epoxy resin based paints
dental composites and sealants
impact resistant safety equipment
Some PVC plastics (4)
A recent study found that people who had extensive contact with BPA-coated receipts (such as grocery store checkers) did not have significant elevation in their blood levels of BPA. (5) So coming into skin contact with BPA is probably of less concern to most of us. For most people, the primary route of entry into the body is by ingesting food that has been in contact with BPA. For this reason, the primary way to avoid BPA exposure is to be conscientious about how your food is stored.
The good news is that many companies have switched to BPA-free plastics for food storage. Most baby bottles, water bottles, and many storage containers produced in the past 2-3 years will now be BPA free. In general, it is a good idea to avoid any food or water containers made of plastic with a number 7 on the bottom. This is not a guarantee that the plastic contains BPA, but it could. Rubbermaid has switched their storage containers to be BPA-free as well. However, even plastics that are BPA-free may contain other less-studied substances that can also influence the function of the endocrine (hormone) systems, so moving towards glass and ceramic storage containers is generally a good idea.
Another way to avoid BPA is to eat more fresh, homemade foods. There are many companies that have started switching the lining of their cans to be BPA-free (here’s a nice list of these companies)(6), but in addition to all the other health promoting reasons it is a good idea to make your food yourself, you will be minimizing the risk of exposure from BPA-lined cans.
While minimizing exposure to BPA is obviously a primary goal, it is clear that most of us will come into contact with it in our daily lives. Assuming that most of us have BPA in our system, the final question is how we can mitigate its effects. While there is less research so far in this area, one thing we know is that at least some of its negative effects result from oxidative damage to cells or DNA. It stands to reason then to look to some of our natural antioxidants to counteract the oxidative effects of BPA. In one in vitro study, oxidative damage to red blood cells was reversed using green tea.(7) Another study showed that the effects of oxidation by BPA were reduced in young women by consumption of wheat sprout juice. (8)
BPA is an extremely common substance: most of us come into contact with it on a daily basis, and almost all of us have it in our bodies. While we must live in our world and not spend our time worrying about every detail, it makes sense to minimize exposure to BPA, especially during pregnancy and childhood. The best way to do this is to focus on eating fresh, home-prepared foods, store our foods in glass and ceramic containers, and eat plant foods that are rich in antioxidants. This will help us to maintain good health and preserve the reproductive health of our children.
2. Lathi RB1, Liebert CA2, Brookfield KF3, et al. Conjugated bisphenol A in maternal serum in relation to miscarriage risk.Fertil Steril. 2014 Jul;102(1):123-8.
3.Manfo FP1, Jubendradass R, Nantia EA et al. Adverse effects of bisphenol A on male reproductive function.Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2014;228:57-82. ,
5. Porras SP1, Heinälä M2, Santonen T2. Bisphenol A exposure via thermal paper receipts.Toxicol Lett. 2014 Aug 28. pii: S0378-4274(14)01310-1.
7.Suthar H, Verma RJ, Patel S, Jasrai YT. Green tea potentially ameliorates bisphenol a-induced oxidative stress: an in vitro and in silico study. Biochem Res Int. 2014;2014:259763. Epub 2014 Aug 10.
8.Yi B1, Kasai H, Lee HS, et al.Inhibition by wheat sprout (Triticum aestivum) juice of bisphenol A-induced oxidative stress in young women. Mutat Res. 2011 Sep 18;724(1-2):64-8.