It’s incredibly common these days to see things labeled “BPA-free”. For the last 10-15 years, there has been increasing awareness that bisphenol A (BPA) can be dangerous to human health. In 2010, the Canadian government took a great first step and made it illegal to manufacture, import, advertise or sell baby bottles or sippy cups containing BPA.
BPA is an industrial chemical that been in use in the 1960s. Between 2002 and 2007 a survey was done of the Canadian population, and BPA was detected in the urine of 91% of people surveyed between the ages of 6 and 79 years.
For many, the most common, substantial sources of exposure are (or have been):
Hard plastics - such as containers for storing foods and hard plastic water bottles
Canned foods - often lined with BPA
Personal care products, including feminine hygiene products
There are other sources as well, which may include thermal printer receipts, electronics, dental fillings, contact lenses etc.
The concerns raised about how BPA can be damaging to human health have been sobering. It’s been associated with things affecting just about every age and stage of life and just about every body systems from head to tea, such as
lower sperm count
hyperactivity and other mental health concerns in offspring of mother's with higher BPA levels
lower birth weight
high blood pressure
impaired liver function
.. and numerous other health challenges.
But the real point of this post, is to note what’s happened to common consumer products as awareness of these potential harms have grown. Over the last decade, we’ve started to see many products labeled "BPA-free". This seems to be a positive thing, but closer scrutiny of these products often reveal them to appear structurally identical to their previous “BPA-containing” counterpart. SO it begs the question - what does BPA free really mean?
The answer is... well, less than encouraging.
What appears to have happened with the majority of these products, is that BPA has been replaced with BPS and BPF. These are alternative bisphenols which, at the time, were perhaps not well studied, but over this last decade are being found to be just as concerning. Even though their use is fairly recent, we already have papers published in peer reviewed journals warning of risks such as hormone disruption, increased risk of metabolic disease and thyroid disease.
Now, it’s probably not possible for anyone to avoid all exposure to bisphenols, but I think the research being published in this domain is pretty clear, so we should take it seriously and strive to avoid exposure whenever possible.
What that might look like:
buying fresh food when possible
avoiding food packaged in plastic and cans
storing food/leftovers/lunches in glass, stainless steel or ceramics
if plastics are to be used, waiting until foods have cooled down completely, as heat will increase the amount of BPA that transfers from the container to the foods
being cautious about toys inside the home, especially those that might end up in children’s mouths, preferring wooden or knitted toys
avoid touching receipts, which can transfer substantial amounts of BPA
drinking out of a glass or stainless steel water bottle
wearings glasses instead of contact lenses
getting ceramic fillings at the dentist when appropriate
When women are preparing their bodies for pregnancy, the precautionary principle is one to be heeded strongly. And as the evidence continues to mount on the possible dangers of exposure to bisphenols, we would do well to migrate more towards the use of materials like wood, glass and stainless steel, instead of slightly re-jigged plastics.
Marzouk, T., Sathyanarayana, S., Kim, A., et al., 2019. A Systematic Review of Exposure to Bisphenol A from Dental Treatment. JDR Clinical & Translational Research, 4(2), pp.106-115.
Rancière, F., Botton, J., Slama, R. et al., 2019. Exposure to Bisphenol A and Bisphenol S and Incident Type 2 Diabetes: A Case–Cohort Study in the French Cohort D.E.S.I.R. Environmental Health Perspectives, 127(10), p.107013.
Rochester, J., 2013. Bisphenol A and human health: A review of the literature. Reproductive Toxicology, 42, pp.132-155.
Rochester, J. and Bolden, A., 2015. Bisphenol S and F: A Systematic Review and Comparison of the Hormonal Activity of Bisphenol A Substitutes. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(7), pp.643-650.
Wazir, U. and Mokbel, K., 2019. Bisphenol A: A Concise Review of Literature and a Discussion of Health and Regulatory Implications. In Vivo, 33(5), pp.1421-1423.
Zhang, Y., Ren, X., Li, Y., et al., 2018. Bisphenol A alternatives bisphenol S and bisphenol F interfere with thyroid hormone signaling pathway in vitro and in vivo. Environmental Pollution, 237, pp.1072-1079.