What is Bisphenol A (BPA)?

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BPA, otherwise known as bisphenol A, is a chemical found in many plastics and resins. It was first used as a synthetic estrogen, meaning that it mimics the natural hormone found in the body. It is often found in polycarbonate plastics in water bottles and other containers for food and drink and in epoxy resins used to coat the inside of metal products like food cans. Exposure to 5 mg/kg of body weight of BPA a day is considered safe, and most people are only exposed to about 0.2-0.5 micrograms/kg of body weight a day (Shoemaker, 2022). Currently, the FDA recognizes BPS as a safe additive in food packaging, although it is banned from being used in products that babies may use, such as baby bottles, baby formula cans, and sippy cups (Shoemaker, 2022). 

Patricia Hunt and Her Mice

Now you may be wondering why exactly BPA was found to be harmful and what its effects are. Patricia Hunt, a geneticist, happened to find out when running experiments to investigate how hormones affected genetic defects in eggs. However, when she found that 40% of her control mice, mice not exposed to any hormone, had egg defects, she wondered what exactly had happened (Hinterthuer, 2008). Turns out, a maintenance worker had used an abrasive cleaner instead of a milder detergent when clearing out the mice cages and bottles  (Hinterthuer, 2008). This caused the BPA to leach out so that even control mice were exposed to a hormone (the BPA), causing these defects  (Hinterthuer, 2008). From her research, Hunt concluded that exposing pregnant mice to BPA can actually affect 3 generations of mice, and in recent research with rodents  from other scientists, it was found that BPA could be linked to mammary and prostate cancers, genital defects in males, early onset of puberty in females, and even ADHD (Hinterthuer, 2008). 

Human Effects of BPA

While the effects can be clearly seen with mice, there are debates as to whether or not BPA has as significant an effect on humans. Some possible links have been found between BPA and increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Bauer, 2023). In children, there are possible effects on the brain and prostate gland. It was also found that BPA exposure can lead to infertility, affect the reproductive system, and cancers (Bauer, 2023). 

BPA and The Environment

All that being said, let’s now look at how BPA is harmful to the environment. BPA can enter the environment either directly from chemicals, plastics, and factories or indirectly, leaching from plastics, paper, and metal waste in landfills (Greenspec, n.d.). Once in the environment, BPA can affect the growth, reproduction, and development of aquatic organisms, especially fish (Greenspec, n.d.). If other fish or even humans consume the exposed fish, it can cause a chain reaction of biomagnification, which will only exacerbate the health effects previously mentioned. 

What to do to Protect Yourself

You may be feeling concerned and overwhelmed after reading all the above, but don’t worry! Although BPA is being regulated and is present at safe levels in packaging nowadays, here are a few steps you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA:

  • Avoid BPA altogether. What better way to reduce your exposure than by avoiding BPA entirely? Use BPA-free products and make sure to look at labels (Bauer, 2023). If there is no label, plastics marked with 3 or 7 may contain BPA, so it’s best to steer clear of those (Bauer, 2023).
  • Avoid heat. Heat can break down BPA and allow it to leach into your food and drink over time (Bauer, 2023). Don’t put your plastics in the microwave or dishwasher (Bauer, 2023)!
  • Eat fresh. Choose fresh fruits and veggies that have not been stored in plastic (Bauer, 2023).
  • Use alternatives. Similar to the first point, opt for a glass, porcelain or stainless-steel container to hold your food and drink instead (Bauer, 2023). 

References

Bauer, B. 2023. What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved Jul 12, 2023, from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331

Greenspec. N.d. What is Bisphenol A (BPA)? Greenspec. Retrieved Jul 12, 2023, from: https://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/bisphenol-a-environment-human-health/

Hinterthuer, A. 2008. Just How Harmful Are Bisphenol A Plastics? Scientific American. Retrieved Jul 12, 2023, from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-how-harmful-are-bisphenol-a-plastics/

Shoemaker, S. 2022. What is BPA? Should I Be Concerned About It? Healthline. Retrieved Jul 12, 2023, from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-bpa#basics

About Post Author

Elizabeth Wang

Elizabeth Wang is a Health Sciences student working as a Research Assistant for EnvironFocus Inc. She hopes to share her perspectives and is always ready to learn more from others.
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