Who knew a three letter word could be so dangerous? BPA, known scientifically as Bisphenol A, is a synthesized chemical compound used in the production of everything from plastic water bottles and food storage containers, to canned foods and paper receipts. Despite government agencies claiming there’s no reason to be concerned, the evidence available tells a very different story.
BPA was invented in the 1890s by a Russian chemist and was considered initially for use as an artificial estrogen because it strongly mimicked the effect of hormones in the body. In the mid-century, BPA was employed in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins because it could produce resilient plastics that wouldn't break or shatter when heated or cooled. It was cheap and effective, hence the widespread commercial use of this very toxic chemical. Despite the mounting evidence that BPA is linked to serious side effects, studies indicate that Americans are still exposed to harmful levels of BPA. This is likely due to the fact that you can find it virtually everywhere, including the biggest culprit: disposable plastic water bottles.
How does BPA harm my body?
BPA affects your health in more ways than one. The toxic chemical has been linked to causing reproductive, immunity, and neurological problems, as well as an increased likelihood of Alzheimer’s, childhood asthma, metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But how seriously should we take these claims? We did our research and compiled the best resources for a comprehensive look at the side effects of BPA.
Most of the concern stems from the fact that BPA is soluble. This means that when it comes into contact with liquids or when it is heated, the bond it has formed with the plastic can be broken, and BPA can seep into the contents of your food or beverage.
Top 5 Side Effects of BPA
Any time we talk about a potentially dangerous toxin in the food we eat or water we drink, someone inevitably comes out and says, “Don’t eat that! It’ll give you cancer.” We’ve heard it so many times that we’ve almost become numb to it. Well, when it comes to BPA, there is truth to this claim.
For example, one study found BPA can mimic estrogen and other hormones and interact with certain cell receptors to promote the development of breast, ovary and prostate cancer. Another study indicated that BPA could mitigate the effectiveness of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients – a cause for concern for anyone undergoing radiation therapy.
Infertility and Fetal Development
The conditions required for a healthy fetus to develop are fragile. We already know that during pregnancy women should not drink alcohol or smoke and that they need to be very careful about dietary choices.
It turns out they should also be careful of the plastics with which they come into contact, according to a study which found BPA to have a negative effect on some fetal development processes.
The way this happens is troubling. Essentially, BPA gets into the woman’s body and tricks the reproductive system into thinking it is a hormone. This blocks or changes what the body’s natural hormones are supposed to do and it has been shown to compromise the quality of the eggs a woman produces, as well as alter the DNA of the fetus, which can lead to birth defects. Studies have also shown that BPA poses serious health risks to men, adversely affecting male reproductive function. While BPA is a major concern for us today, its effect on fertility and child development will affect future generations.
Despite the FDA’s claims that current levels of BPA exposure are safe, there is much less consensus in the medical community, and BPA does appear to have effects on brain function. For example, a study by the Duke University Medical Center found the presence of BPA prevents the removal of chloride from the central nervous system and also disrupts the way the brain regulates genes.
Excess chloride in the brain is known to be one of the key drivers of dementia, Alzheimer ’s disease, and other cognitive disorders. This is not to say BPA will give you these conditions, but that it creates an environment where they are more likely to develop, suggesting a BPA-free approach to life might be entirely necessary.
Heart Disease and Diabetes
Heart disease and diabetes brought on by obesity have reached near epidemic levels in the United States. Though it is primarily because of high-fat diets and processed foods, the BPA used in product packaging may also be a contributing factor. Some studies have found that BPA exposure can increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Researchers have confirmed that there is a link between these diseases and BPA, but they are not sure how they interact. With this type of confirmation, it is simply best to avoid BPA at all costs.
Bisphenol A can also contribute to weight gain. It does this partially because of what we mentioned earlier about its ability to act as a hormone inside the body. It can interfere with insulin production and resistance (wreaking havoc on your body’s control of blood sugar), and it can cause an increase in fat cell production. So while you're running on that treadmill, it might be wise to leave your plastic water bottle at home. At Kablo, we've worked very hard to develop the absolute highest-quality, non-toxic, contaminant-free borosilicate glass water bottles. We encourage everyone to educate themselves and only use containers that are inert and sanitary for their daily drinkware – many plastic and metal alternatives can leach into your beverage and it is wise to steer clear of soluble materials.
Should we trust the FDA?
Hundreds of scientific studies in the last 10 years have confirmed a link between BPA and its adverse health effects (many of which we've linked). While the FDA suggests that the results are inconclusive, we have reason to be wary of these claims. The FDA is infamous for fabricating research that is funded by industry. Remember how 50 years ago the sugar industry paid FDA scientists to downplay the risks of sugar? We now know that in fact, sugar increases the likelihood of triglycerides, diabetes and even cancer.
Anyone familiar with the inner workings of the FDA should know to take results from their studies with a very large grain of salt. For some time now, pharmaceutical companies have been able to pay the FDA to fast-track drug approval, calling into question the legitimacy of this institution. Do we have any reason to believe that they wouldn’t do the same for plastic bottled water companies – which is an industry that will be worth an enormous $280 Billion by 2020?
It’s no surprise that the FDA has been trying to create confusion around the side effects of BPA. In spite of this, scientists continue to stand behind the science that links BPA with severe health risks. A brief look at the multitude of independent studies shows that at the very least we should be skeptical of the FDA’s stamp of approval and become much more critical of how we consume water and the containers we use.
Where is BPA found?
Nowadays, BPA can be found in a wide range of products, such as:
- Plastic water bottles
- Plastic baby bottles
- Canned foods
- Plastic food packaging
- Household electronics
- Eyeglass lenses
- CDs and DVDs
This is by no means a comprehensive list. BPA is found in many packaged goods and plastic beverage containers. Manufacturers often use BPA to make epoxy resins to coat the inside of metal cans so that they do not corrode. A study published in the journal JAMA has even found that hand sanitizer speeds up the absorption of BPA from paper receipts into the body.
Is ‘BPA-free plastic" safe?
The evidence against so-called ‘BPA free’ plastics, including reusable plastic bottles, is alarming. Why? Since manufacturers need to continue producing plastic bottles to stay in business, they replace BPA with other synthesized chemicals that release estrogens even more dangerous than BPA, such as BPS and BFP. One study found that BPS, an alternative used in ‘BPA-free’ bottles, had the same harmful effects on the body, including negative effects on estrogen and the thyroid hormone system. Even worse, the cocktail of these chemicals together is doing even more damage to the body. In a study performed in 2013 at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, they found that the combination of multiple endocrine-disruptors caused cell mutation and significant damage to genes. Nearly 81% of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine.
Here's the takeaway, if it's plastic, there’s a good chance it’s got BPA in it. Ultimately, reusable plastic bottles advertised as ‘BPA-free’ still pose a significant risk given the widespread use of alternative chemicals manufacturers use. Call us biased, but borosilicate glass is one of the very few materials you can be sure is free of BPA, lead, phthalates or other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (read more about borosilicate glass here).
Did we mention the environmental disaster caused by single-use containers and the plastic bottle industry? There are safe alternatives like PP#5 which is a thermoplastic polymer that has a very high resistance to heat, but be sure to check the product label or manufacturer website to ensure that such materials are actually used when claims of 'BPA-free products' are made.
Plastic waste, a worldwide epidemic
We know that plastic is the number one carrier of BPA. A new study found that by 2021 disposable plastic water bottle consumption will be more than 580 billion plastic bottles a year. That’s billion, with a B. In the United States alone, 1,500 plastic water bottles are used every second. Take a moment to let that sink in. Considering only 7% of plastic bottles end up getting recycled, the excess typically ends up in oceans, rivers, lakes and other natural habitats.
Why does this matter? Aside from the fact that BPA harms our body with frequent contact, it is downright wreaking havoc on our environment. It does not biodegrade, and it is a petroleum-based product. Entire ecosystems have been wiped out by plastic waste vortexes floating in our oceans. One of them, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch spans over 1.3 million square miles and continues to grow as it draws in more plastic waste every day. Since BPA is found in almost every type of plastic, BPA is frequently leaking into our water supply and the foods we eat (fish absorb many contaminants found in the ocean). Boycotting BPA (and other ‘BPA free’ plastic alternatives) means boycotting the plastic bottle industry first and foremost. This can be the catalyst for a decrease in plastic pollution and an improvement to our health, and the health of generations to come.
This does not mean plastic is inherently evil, it simply means we as humans are turning a wonderful invention into a disposable nightmare. A plastic water bottle can be used thousands of times, but unfortunately, we have turned an incredible material into a single-use container, and it is our personal habits that need to change. We are a global civilization with a big appetite, and our environment is not geared to handle such large volumes of waste.
What can you do?
It is critical we try and limit how much we and our loved ones come into contact with BPA. Here are some things you can do in your everyday life to make sure you aren’t being overexposed:
- Cut down on plastic consumption and use glass instead. Whether it has BPA in it or not, plastic waste is destroying ecosystems. It is made from oil, and it virtually never biodegrades. Consider using glass water bottles that you can refill, and think about storing foods in glass jars instead of plastic bags and containers which can leach contaminants.
- Eat real food, not processed and packaged. This is something you should consider even without the risks of BPA. Natural foods are more flavorful, nutritious and easier on the environment and your gut. Try to buy more root veggies that come from the ground, not a factory. Avoid canned foods.
- Look for plastics with the BPA-free label. Do your research, try to find options that do not use BPA and make sure the product/manufacturer provides the name of the material that is used in place of BPA.
What will you do to reduce your plastic footprint? It's never too late to put your health in focus, and to help preserve our environment for future generations.
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