- Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in plastic containers, water bottles, and in till receipts
- The chemical, used since the 1960s, mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen
- Study by University of Exeter tested urine samples from 94 teenagers
Almost 90 per cent of teenagers have gender-bending chemicals from plastic in their bodies, according to a study.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in plastic containers and water bottles, on the inside of food cans and in till receipts.
The chemical, used since the 1960s to make certain types of plastic, mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen, and has been linked to low sperm counts and infertility in men, as well as breast and prostate cancer.
A study by the University of Exeter, whose researchers tested urine samples from 94 teenagers, found 86 per cent had traces of BPA in their body.
Experts fear it is all but impossible to avoid the chemical, given the widespread use of plastic packaging for food.
The study’s co-author Professor Lorna Harries, from the university’s medical school, said: ‘Most people are exposed to BPA on a daily basis. In this study, our student researchers have discovered that at the present time, given current labelling laws, it is difficult to avoid exposure by altering our diet. In an ideal world, we would have a choice over what we put into our bodies. At the present time, since it is difficult to identify which foods and packaging contain BPA, it is not possible to make that choice.’
The European Chemicals Agency last year reclassified BPA as a substance of ‘very high concern’ because of its ‘probable serious effects’ on human health.
Used to harden plastics, it has been linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as declining male fertility.
Although it is found in till receipts, sunglasses and CD cases, the main way people are exposed is through plastic packaging whose chemicals leach into food.
As well as giving urine samples, the teenagers filled out food diaries. Even when they were told to avoid BPA in their diet for a week, there was no measurable fall in the chemical within their bodies.
This has been blamed on the widespread use of the chemical in food packaging, which the Daily Mail has highlighted in its Turn The Tide On Plastic campaign – launched in November, and backed by the head of the UN’s environmental programme.
Participants told researchers ‘almost everything is packaged in plastic’.
One added: ‘I found it really hard to know what foods I could eat … there is never a guarantee it is BPA-free.’
Foods that appear safe because they are not sold in plastic packaging may still contain ingredients which have been exposed to the dangerous chemical. Highly processed products and fast food are believed to be a particular risk.
Professor Tamara Galloway, lead author of the research, said: ‘We found that a diet designed to reduce exposure to BPA, including avoiding fruit and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, had little impact on BPA levels in the body.’
Previous research has shown people risk higher exposure if they repeatedly use plastic bottles containing BPA, because of wear over time, and if they heat up plastic tubs containing the industrial substance in the microwave.
While BPA is removed from the blood by the kidneys within hours, recent studies show it can stay in the body for up to 43 hours, suggesting it builds up in a person’s fat. Although it is classified as an ‘endocrine disruptor’ – meaning it can interfere with the hormone systems of mammals – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) maintains humans’ low exposure to the chemical is not harmful.
Responding to the latest study, published in the BMJ Open journal, the British Plastics Federation said BPA is not found in most ‘on-the-go’ water and soft drinks bottles.
A spokesman said: ‘The British Plastics Federation supports the conclusions of the EFSA that, at current exposure levels, plastics containing BPA pose no consumer health risks for any age group.’
By Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha, authors of Life Without Plastic
WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
You might not have heard of BPA (short for bisphenol A) but it’s everywhere. It’s a synthetic chemical which is a building block for the clear plastics found in things like drinking bottles, CDs and DVDs, and plastic plates and cutlery. It’s also the basis for the epoxy linings of metal food cans, and is even found on the cash register receipts you’re given at the shops.
The problem with BPA is that it disrupts the normal hormonal processes that regulate the body. In particular, it mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen, and has been linked to health problems ranging from obesity to cancer, potentially even when we are exposed only to small amounts.
Our hormones control most major bodily functions such as reproduction, development, behaviour and even intelligence, so it’s vital they remain in balance. But experts fear that BPA – an imposter in the body which goes into the bloodstream and imitates natural hormones – can knock hormones out of kilter. For that reason, they can wreak long-term havoc on our health, especially among the vulnerable.
WHY IS IT MORE DANGEROUS FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN?
Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to damage from ingesting the BPA chemical because they have vast amounts of growth and developmental hormones coursing through their bodies.
Worryingly, researchers have made strong associations between exposure to BPA when we are young and changes in behaviour, including disrupted brain development in children, along with increased probability of childhood asthma.
That said, the impact of early exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA may not become apparent until much later in life. It can even affect future generations because it can have a damaging effect on female reproduction, and has the potential to affect male reproductive systems. A large number of scientific studies have associated BPA with numerous health problems including early puberty, obesity, infertility, the inhibition of insulin, hyperactivity and learning disabilities. It has also been connected to a possible increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Normally, if we were aware something could pose such a threat to our health, we would go to great lengths to avoid it. But BPA is so ubiquitous that that’s virtually impossible.
Researchers surmise that people all over the world of all ages are likely to have a measurable amount of BPA in their blood, urine or body tissue. Several government studies have detected BPA in large portions of the population, including 93 per cent of the US population aged six and older, and 99 per cent of the population in Germany aged 3-14. This new study into the high number of teenagers with BPA in their digestive system serves only to underscore that concern.
HOW ARE WE EXPOSED TO IT?
We are most exposed to BPA through our diet. It leaches out of polycarbonate products such as food containers and large water containers, as well as from the epoxy lining of aluminium and steel cans used to package pretty much any canned food or drink you can imagine, from tinned tomatoes and baked beans to beer and fizzy drinks. The ‘leakage’ from these products is made worse when the packaging contains acidic or oily foods such as lemon and tomato. It is also exacerbated by high temperatures.
Curiously, BPA is also present in high quantities as a print developer on till receipts. This means that when you handle receipts, it comes off on your fingers and is absorbed deep enough into your skin that it can’t be washed off. And don’t think you can use a hand sanitiser to wash it off: the chemicals in them can actually increase by up to 100-fold the skin’s absorption of BPA.
In a recent study, researchers found that when people held till receipts immediately after using a hand sanitiser, BPA was transferred to their hands and then on to chips which they then ate – this combination of BPA going into the body through the skin and in the mouth led to a rapid and dramatic increase in the BPA level in their blood and urine.
So the best advice is to refuse cash register receipts unless you absolutely need them, and don’t let children touch them. If you do have to handle them, wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible after touching receipts.
Most worryingly, scientists have found that BPA can be harmful to humans at levels well below those considered safe by government regulatory bodies.
In October last year, the EU banned BPA in packaging for products aimed at infants and children up to three years old, which extends the 2011 EU ban on BPA in baby bottles. But banning it in baby bottles and baby food containers ignores the fact that BPA is in so many other products that surround us every single day.
IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?
You might pride yourself on always buying water bottles, for example, with a label that says ‘BPA-free’. But don’t get too excited. Given the public distrust of BPA, manufacturers have been replacing it with other chemicals from the diverse bisphenol family – substances with names such as bisphenol AF, bisphenol B, bisphenol C, bisphenol E, bisphenol F and bisphenol S. The names are similar for a reason – their chemical structures are practically identical, and research has shown that many such replacements also exhibit hormone-disrupting activity. (Click to Source)
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