Certain things are hard for me to wrap my brain around. Like bisphenol-A (BPA)–the industrial compound used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, and contained in a wide variety of consumer products (baby bottles, plastic containers, the resin lining of cans for food and beverages, to name a few). People are exposed to BPA by using such products–one sampling in a CDC body burden study detected the chemical in 93 percent of those included.
Since at least 1936 it has been known that BPA mimics estrogens, binding to the same receptors throughout the human body as natural female hormones. Now does it really seem like a good idea to be using synthetic estrogen in commonly-used materials that allow it to leach into our bodies?
More than 100 peer-reviewed studies have found BPA to be toxic at low doses. Scientists have linked it to everything from breast cancer to obesity, heart disease to diabetes, attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike. The FDA is just beginning to mumble “maybe just maybe we should think about conducting some further studies.” I’m sure it has been hard to come to this conclusion, given the millions of dollars spent on pro-BPA lobbying by the chemical industry.
Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council notes that Americans absorb quantities of BPA at levels that government regulators have found to be safe. But, “the vast majority of independent scientists—those not working for industry—are concerned about early-life low-dose exposures to BPA,” said Janet Gray, a Vassar College professor who is science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund.
Now I am (rhetorically) wondering if the pharmaceutical lobby (hello, Viagra) is working on behalf of BPA as well, given a recent study showing that increased levels of BPA are associated with:
- Decreased sexual desire.
- More difficulty having an erection.
- Lower ejaculation strength.
- Lower level of overall satisfaction with sex life.
The five-year study–conducted by Kaiser Permanente and appearing online in the Journal of Andrology–examined 427 workers in factories in China, comparing workers in BPA-manufacturing facilities with a control group of workers in factories where no BPA was present.
The study measured urine BPA levels among participants and examined the correlation between their urine BPA level and their reported problems of sexual dysfunction.
According to the study’s lead author De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, from Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research in Oakland, Calif: “Even among men exposed to BPA from only environmental sources (no occupational exposure and with average BPA levels lower than the average observed in the American population), there were indications of an increased risk of sexual dysfunction.”
Toxins in the environment contribute to diseases and health conditions. “Preventing those environmental exposures requires evidence, and this study greatly enhances our understanding of the health effects of BPA,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president of Workplace Safety and environmental stewardship officer.
So there you have it. Everyone is always scratching their head about the rise of disease, disorder, and dysfunction that is affecting our population, and the answers seem plain as day to me. Between environmental pollutants and the abysmal state of modern food, our bodies are coursing with chemicals–is the general rise in epidemics really that confounding?
As for BPA, if you’d prefer not to be ingesting it–say, for instance, that you like sexual desire and the ability to enjoy it, and you don’t like cancer, heart disease, and other assorted health catastrophes–here are some tips on how to avoid it.
The main culprits, aside from occupational exposure, are canned food and hard plastic food and water containers:
- Buy prepared foods in jars when possible–especially tomatoes and tomato sauce.
- Opt for fresh produce when you can, choose frozen produce over canned.
- Use dried beans instead of canned beans–they’re less expensive, easy to cook from scratch, and super awesome: read more about cooking beans here.
- When possible it is best to avoid #7 plastics, especially for children’s food. Plastics with the recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom are safer choices and do not contain BPA.
- Find baby bottles in glass versions, or those made from the safer plastics including polyamine, polypropylene and polyethylene. Bottles used to pump and store expressed breast milk by the brand Medela are labeled BPA-free.
- Soft or cloudy-colored plastic does not contain BPA.
- Many metal water bottles are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA. Look for stainless steel bottles that do not have a plastic liner.
Read more about the dangers of plastic, and food storage here.