Most of us have heard of Bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disrupting chemical in our environment that somehow finds its way into our blood stream. One US study found BPA in 95% of human urine samples.
BPA mimics estrogen and, even at low levels, may have a number of harmful effects on the body, including increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, asthma, and fetal brain development. Babies and young children are especially sensitive to its effects. It is also harmful to the environment and animals.
Until recently, however, it was unclear how most BPA got into humans. Although a week of drinking water from plastic bottles increased college student’s BPA level by two thirds, BPA levels also increased even when people were fasting. Besides plastic containers, BPA is also used in the lining of food cans. But even if you avoid plastic bottles and canned foods, you very likely still have BPA in your body. BPA was finally banned from use in baby bottles in the US in 2012. Canada and Europe had banned BPA years earlier (2008 and 2011). Now “BPA-free” labels on plastic containers put our mind at ease, but perhaps they shouldn’t. BPA-free plastics may be no safer; a recent study showed that all tested plastics leached chemicals with estrogenic activity, even at cool temperatures.
Later, scientists discovered that for many people the greatest source of BPA exposure may be through thermal paper, used ubiquitously for cash register receipts, food package labels, movie & lottery tickets, airline luggage tags, and much more. These items contain high levels of BPA that is readily absorbed through the skin. Even more frightening is that using hand sanitizer or lotion increases the amount absorbed by a hundred-fold. Cleaning our hands with hand sanitizer before or after we enter a grocery store or restaurant is something that many of us do nowadays. We also handle cash register receipts and then eat (fast) food, greatly increasing absorption through the skin and the stomach.
After banning BPA from baby bottles in 2011, Europe banned BPA from all food packaging and labels in 2015. The FDA has not followed suit. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, it still insists that BPA is safe. Watch Dr. Michael Greger’s alarming video here.
We are all so afraid of germs, when we should probably be more afraid of antibacterial substances. These are turning out to be more dangerous than we once thought and it’s best to avoid them. Another bad actor, the antibacterial Triclosan will soon be banned from use in soaps, although it can still be found in hundreds of other products such as shampoo, athletic gear, and even food storage containers, cutting boards, toothpaste and wound treatments!
To check whether food cans contain BPA, the Environmental Working Group offers a free Healthy Living App. It allows you to scan a product’s bar code with your smartphone, which then tells you whether the can liner contains BPA. It gives you lots of additional health info about the product, its packaging, and how it was processed using easy to understand red, yellow, and green colors.
What about the best way to clean our hands? A recent study showed that washing hands with cold water and regular soap was just as effective as hot water and antibacterial soap. Unless you are scrubbing in for surgery, that will probably work fine for most of us.
Until we have further studies, here are a few prudent measures you can take to avoid your exposure to these chemicals:
Store foods in glass or stainless steel containers.
Avoid microwaving food in plastic
Avoid washing plastic in the dishwasher or with harsh detergents.
Drink filtered water and skip the plastic bottles.
Avoid thermal paper and wash your hands after handling it. Examples of thermal-printed paper are: cash register receipts, ATM receipts, airport/airline-printed boarding passes and luggage tags, supermarket-printed food labels, movie and lottery tickets, etc.
Make it a habit to wash your hands as soon as you enter your home after a shopping or other trip.
BPA will likely be in our environment for years to come, but with this knowledge, you can drastically decrease your exposure.