Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 11, 2013
It seems as though everywhere we look, people are carrying around bottles of water. But is this healthy choice presenting a health risk? Many plastic beverage containers contain a chemical known as bisphenol-A (BPA). So, what is BPA, and should you be avoiding it?
What Is BPA?
BPA is a chemical used in the production of epoxy resins and certain hard plastics called polycarbonates.
For most people, the primary source of exposure to BPA is through diet. BPA can migrate into food from polycarbonate food and beverage containers or from food and beverage containers that contain or are lined with epoxy resin. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) identified detectable levels of BPA in more than 90 percent of 2,517 urine samples from people six years and older.
Health Concerns Continue to be Studied
In April 2008, the federal National Toxicology Program (NTP) reported that “there is some concern for neural and behavioral effects in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures, [and there is] some concern for bisphenol A exposure in these populations based on effects in the prostate gland, mammary gland, and an earlier age for puberty in females.”
One concern is that BPA works on the biological system as an endocrine disruptor, a naturally occurring or man-made substance that interferes with natural hormone balance and function. Endocrine disruptors turn on, shut off, or modify signals that hormones carry, which, in turn, affects the normal functions of tissues and organs throughout the body.
The FDA has not banned products made with BPA, stating that current scientific evidence does not suggest that very low levels of exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe; however, the FDA continues to monitor research studies in response to concerns raised by many medical experts and scientific researchers. For example, a recent study found that high concentrations of BPA in the urine were associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver problems.
What Can You Do?
While the safety of BPA is being studied, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure:
- Purchase water bottles and other hard plastics labeled “BPA-free.”
- Do not reheat food in a plastic container unless it is clearly marked “microwave safe” (not many are).
- Store and reheat food in glass or ceramic containers free of metallic paint.
- Purchase eggs that are sold in pressed cardboard or paper cartons.
- Use cling or plastic wrap only for food storage and not for reheating. Avoid storing fatty foods, like meat or cheese, in cling or plastic wrap, as these foods are the most likely to absorb chemicals from the wrap.
- Beware of cling wraps labeled “microwave safe.” Instead, use waxed paper or a paper towel to cover foods.
- Before eating plastic-wrapped deli foods, slice off a thin layer where the food came in contact with the plastic.
- Invest in a safe, reusable water bottle to limit chemical exposure. Some plastic bottles are made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), recyclable #4 plastic, and contain no BPA. Others are made of hard, clear plastic without the use of BPA. Water bottles made from stainless steel or aluminum are other safe alternatives, although aluminum bottles must be lined to prevent contents from reacting with the metal. Look for products that use a water-based material in their lining; check with the manufacturer to be certain.
For more information about finding the safest types of plastic, read the July/August issue of the Osher Center’s newsletter. You can also find some excellent tips for choosing healthy beverages to put in your healthy water bottle.