Bisphenol-A (BPA) was first created by a Russian chemist in 1891, but wasn't used in the manufacture of products until the 1950s when it was used to produce resilient and often transparent plastics. Today, BPA is found in countless personal care products, water bottles, cashier receipts and the lining of canned goods.
Although research shows BPA is detrimental to human health, the market was valued at over $13 billion in 2013 and expected to reach $20 billion in 2020.1 Unfortunately, as the demand for BPA-free products is rising, substitute chemicals that are nearly identical to BPA are being substituted and thought to produce the same negative human health effects.
Recently, a study from the University of Exeter determined the extent to which BPA is found in the human population.2 The study was a collaborative research project between community-based resources (high school students) and the University of Exeter researchers.
BPA Found in Nearly 90 Percent of Teens
The study tested the urine and blood of 94 students in Great Britain and found 86 percent of the teenagers had hormone-disrupting contaminants in their system. Although currently legal in Europe, the European Chemicals Agency3 reclassified BPA in 2017 as a substance of "very high concern" as it has probable serious effects on human health.4
The research project was carried out in a real-world setting to provide students with the experience of scientific research. The students designed, participated in and published the study, including how changes in their lifestyle or diet may have an impact on the amount of BPA in their bodies.5
The results support several previous studies, including one by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of over 2,500 individual urine samples.6 This data is representative of exposure throughout the U.S., whereas the current study is a small sample of adolescent students from Great Britain.
The ubiquitous nature of BPA in the environment and marketplace makes it difficult to prevent exposure. Following the first round of testing, students were asked to avoid products that may contain BPA for one week.7 Follow-up testing revealed very little change in the students’ urine and blood samples despite the short time BPA stays in the body. Tamara Galloway, Ph.D., ecotoxicologist from the University of Exeter, commented on the results of the study, saying:8
"Our students who followed the BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it long term, because labeling of BPA products was inconsistent. They found it difficult to source and identify BPA-free foods."
BPA can be found in plastics used to protect foods, in the lining of cans, on-the-go drink bottles, plastic shower curtains and store receipts, just to name a few. Printed thermal cashier receipts use BPA in the manufacture of paper designed to react to heat. Disturbingly, research has demonstrated using hand sanitizer may increase your risk of absorbing BPA from your environment by a factor of 100 or more by changing the permeability of your skin.9
Following the study, the researchers from Exeter University called for better labeling on packaging in order to allow consumers to make healthier choices. Lorna Harries, Ph.D., co-author of the study from the University of Exeter Medical School, commented:10
"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."
Children Are at Increased Risk
BPA is an estrogenic endocrine disruptor. In other words, it represents a complex risk to human health by mimicking, or partially mimicking, hormones that naturally occur in your body. This can produce overstimulation, or interfere or block the way in which hormones are made or controlled. The interruption in the endocrine system may produce negative results in reproductive, neurological and immune systems of both children and adults.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, research demonstrates endocrine disruptors have the greatest risk when exposure occurs during prenatal and early childhood development,11 as this is when organ and neurological systems are being formed and completed. Other studies have demonstrated that BPA also places young children at risk for future heart disease, independent of heart conditions related to obesity.12
Researchers have also uncovered a relationship between BPA and heart problems in adults. A research team from the University of Cincinnati studied how BPA affected male and female mice and found there is greater threat to a woman's heart health from exposure to BPA than to a man.13 The aim of the study was to determine the effects on heart function.
Male and female mice exhibited changes to blood pressure and heart rate, however the female mice could not handle the BPA exposure as well. Researchers have also identified an association between BPA and egg maturation in humans, interference with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland and a suggestion that these actions may affect puberty, ovulation and lead to infertility.14