Do I Really Need to Be Concerned About Avoiding BPA?

Water Bottles Recycling
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BPA (Bisphenol A) has been used in the manufacturing of plastic and resin goods for years, but you may not have heard much about this chemical until recently. As research on its safety continues to emerge and consumers become more concerned with and savvy about product safety, BPA is becoming more of a household name.

While it’s true that you wouldn’t eat, say, a plastic water bottle, experts have raised concerns over the BPA in water bottles and other containers (such as lined metal cans) and wrappers (like those that cover a fast food) that may seep into what we eat and drink.

BPA can also be present in items that have nothing to do with what we consume, including toys, receipts, electronics, and so on.

Verywell’s Senior Medical Advisor, David L. Katz, MD, spoke to his True Health Initiative colleague and council member, Joel Kahn, MD, and asked him to share his perspective on the topic and how concerned we should be about BPA.

David L. Katz, MD: What are the health concerns surrounding BPA that you are most concerned about?

Joel Kahn, MD: BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system, even in small amounts. It has been linked to a wide variety of ills, including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, early puberty, behavioral changes in children, and resistance to chemotherapy treatments.

DK: What is your opinion on the evidence against BPA? The FDA has not banned the use of BPA in food and beverage containers, so consumers may not think it’s a big concern.

JK: The FDA says that, “based on its most recent safety assessment, BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.” However, I would judge the database of peer-reviewed research and meta-analyses that support concerns about BPA as very strong and numbering in the hundreds if not thousands of quality studies.

In fact, the data was robust enough to be summarized in a comprehensive position paper by the Endocrine Society in 2015.

This is particularly troubling because studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that BPA is in the bodies of nearly every person over the age of six. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected BPA in nine of 10 cord blood samples. Most of this contamination is believed to come from food packaging.

The FDA is partnering with the National Toxicology Program to carry out in-depth studies to answer questions raised by studies, however, so their position does have the potential to change.

DK: Are there any plastic/resin products where use of BPA is prohibited?

JK: In 2009, under pressure from consumers, major manufacturers of hard, clear baby bottles, sippy cups, and sports water bottles voluntarily switched to other plastics. The FDA has officially barred BPA use in baby bottles, children's cups, and infant formula packaging. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the ban at this time.

DK: How do you see the risks of BPA comparing to, say, those of eating a poor diet? 

JK: There is no easy way to compare the health risks of BPA versus a processed food diet high in oil, salt, and sugar.

They both carry risks that are hidden from immediate detection. Both may contribute to obesity and other health issues. The best strategy is to take a "holistic" approach to your food and what you are exposed to. Add more fruit and vegetables, eat whole grains, fill up on legumes, reduce added sugars, and minimize your exposure to chemicals such as BPA whenever possible.

DK: How do you suggest consumers determine if food or drink packaging is BPA-free?

JK: There is no official label to designate something as being BPA-free, though many companies that have made the switch and are no longer using BPA are proud to label their products as such, so I encourage you to check product packaging.

If you’re unsure, you may consider contacting the manufacturer and asking. Again, consumer pressure has been having an effect in this regard. You can also use the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores tool to look up your favorite canned products and see if they use BPA in their liners (you can even search for products that don’t use BPA-containing can liners).

DK: What actions do you recommend consumers take to reduce their exposure to BPA?

When it comes to the top priority actions you can and should take to reduce your exposure, here are my suggestions:

  • Stop buying plastic water bottles; replace them with glass or stainless reusable ones.
  • Reduce or eliminate canned foods, unless labeled “BPA free.”
  • Do not microwave food in plastic.
  • Switch to glass food storage containers, especially for lunch you may be inclined to warm up at the office.
  • Do not take thermal print receipts if not needed.
  • Avoid fast food for many health reasons, including the paper it tends to be wrapped in.

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