“A poison kills you. A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.”
– Frederick vom Saal, Biology Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and BPA researcher1
Read that again. Let it sink in for a moment…
BPA or bisphenol-A, a chemical found in many plastics may well be one of the worst offenders in endocrine disruption, aka your hormones. It affects both men and women, as well as animals and the environment.
And as vom Saal states, the true problems of this may not become apparent to humankind for another generation.
Let’s dive deeper on this chemical and what we can do about it.
Table of Contents
What is BPA?
Bisphenol A is an organic synthetic compound, used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.
BPA-based plastics are transparent and robust and utilized for all kinds of consumer goods, including water bottles. BPA filled epoxy resins are used to line water pipes and as coatings inside almost all food and beverage containers.
BPA is also present in thermal paper, commonly used for sales receipts. Research shows that just normal handling of receipts quickly elevates BPA levels found in the blood.2
In 2015, an estimated 4,000,000 tons of BPA rich plastics were produced.
In general, the plastic resin identification codes can be helpful in identifying what has BPA and what doesn’t. Type 3 has BPA. Type 7, which is a catch-all category, so it is quite prevalent, may or may not have BPA.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t help all that much, as many things such as the plastic wrappers around food won’t necessarily come with one of these symbols. And much of the food packaging plastic does have BPA.
Nor should you let that happy bottle fool you…
It leeches into food. It gets in the water. Research shows that BPA is even in indoor dust and air!3
The Scientific Consensus on BPA
Most of the early testing around BPA has found that it is very weakly estrogenic, to the tune of 37,000 times less active than estradiol. Other research found it to be only 1000 to 2000 times less potent than estradiol.
So it was deemed safe for human use…however, more and more research uncovered more and more problems. In November 2006, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences asked a group of 38 researchers to evaluate all the 700+ studies on the subject of BPA. This yielded the following:
I’ve linked to the full document in PDF form for those that would like to review it. But here I’ll quote and summarize some of the findings. Keep in mind this was funded by the National Institute of Health and the EPA, among others. The writers were not part of some fringe group.
BPA Mimics Estrogen
BPA is commonly called a xeno-estrogen. While early research showed it was a “weak” estrogen, compared to estradiol, that was in relation to the estrogen receptor alpha.
Newer research shows it is as potent as estradiol in other estrogen receptors on cell membranes. It only needs parts per trillion to be physiologically active here! Yet, human exposure to BPA is variable from 0.3 to 4.4 ng/mL or parts per billion, as found in adults, children, and fetuses.
“The commonly reported circulating levels in humans exceed the circulating levels extrapolated from acute exposure studies in laboratory animals.”
That average, even below average, exposure is active in your hormone system.
BPA is a Multi-Faceted Endocrine Disruptor
However, its estrogenic activity is not the only way it disrupts hormones. It is an endocrine disruptor via numerous pathways:
- Alters hormone synthesis
- Changes tissue enzymes
- Alters hormone receptors
- Modifies androgen receptor signalling systems
- Modifies thyroid receptor signalling systems
- Possibly changes insulin metabolism
Through these actions, and possibly other ones, BPA is likely carcinogenic, even at very small doses.
BPA Reprograms DNA
What made vom Saal state the quote that begun this article is that in animal studies the sensitivity to endocrine disruption is increasingly sensitive at certain stages of life, most notably in the womb and as a newborn. And that exposure at these times not only harms at those times but;
“BPA alters ‘epigenetic programming’ of genes in experimental animals and wildlife that results in persistent effects that are expressed later in life.”
I had to look deeper into the study where this was discovered. The researchers took male rats and exposed them to environmentally relevant doses to BPA, meaning similar exposure to what humans get. When done at early developmental ages, and even after ceasing all exposure, this led to them being more likely to get prostate cancer later in life.5
Of course, it’s not just effecting us (i.e. humans) either. This stuff is polluting the environment, which then gets into animals and plants, screwing them up as much or more too. Then it bioaccumulates and moves on. We’ve been producing this to the tune of hundreds of thousands and millions of tons every year for however long when parts per trillion are biologically active!?
That is scary and maddening stuff.
To sum up:
“The published scientific literature on human and animal exposure to low doses of BPA…reveals that human exposure to BPA is within the range that is predicted to be biologically active in over 95% of people sampled. The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans. Recent trends in human diseases relate to adverse effects observed in experimental animals exposed to low doses of BPA. Specific examples include: the increase in prostate and breast cancer, uro-genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men, early onset of puberty in girls, metabolic disorders including insulin resistant (type 2) diabetes and obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“There is extensive evidence that outcomes may not become apparent until long after BPA exposure during development has occurred…These developmental effects are irreversible and can occur due to low-dose exposure during brief sensitive periods in development, even though no BPA may be detected when the damage or disease is expressed. However, this does not diminish our concern for adult exposure, where many adverse outcomes are observed while exposure is occurring. Concern regarding exposure throughout life is based on evidence that there is chronic, low level exposure of virtually everyone in developed countries to BPA. These findings indicate that acute studies in animals, particularly traditional toxicological studies that only involve the use of high doses of BPA, do not reflect the situation in humans.”
We could go further down the research rabbit hole, but I think that gives you a good enough overview of what BPA is doing.
So, why the hell is this stuff still legal and everywhere?
Politics of BPA
Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is bad. This is self-evident today, but before my time it wasn’t always so. The cigarette industry fought to the end in denying the dangers of its products. It appears that after that war was finally lost, many of the lobbyists moved into other industries, plastics being one of them.1
The Chapel Hill report you just read about, back in 2006, was not enough. A decade later, a review from just last year (2016) summed up the state of politics in regards to BPA.
“Government agencies support the use of BPA as a safe consumer product with the exception of BPA use in baby bottles and sippy cups, which has been banned in the United States and several other countries. Many agencies (e.g., Federal Drug Administration [FDA], World Health Organization [WHO], U.S. Department of Health & Human Services [U.S. DHHS], and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) have expressed “some concern” about BPA based on research, and stated further research is warranted.”6
BPA is not in baby bottles and sippy cups…basically, fuck everyone and everything else.
Thanks for keeping us safe, government.
Is BPA-Free Any Better?
The short answer is no. Non-toxic is…well, not truthful.
The next article in this series will go into more detail about the other terrors of plastic. There are many.
But I’m not going to leave you exasperated as I was when I read this information. Here is your assignment.
What to do about it?
One of the biggest things is by cutting back on contact with plastic and other endocrine disrupting chemicals (like pesticides, skin care, etc.)
In that previous article, I discussed the research that shows population level declines in men’s testosterone. Epidemics like cancer including many estrogen-sensitive ones like breast cancer (which took my mother’s life) and prostate cancer are only increasing.
I’m not saying that BPA, nor plastic causes all of this. But it is one of many factors at play, one that assuredly plays a causative role.
No, plastic will not kill you…not today. Over time, compounded with all the other pollutants in our environment, it just might. And it may reduce the quality of your life every step along the way in subtle ways. And if vom Saal is right, it will do the same to your children and grandchildren.
Plastics are ubiquitous because they’re cheap, effective at making things that last, and are highly customizable.
That’s why they’re everywhere. And that’s why we need to start making that not so.
Here are several steps you can take:
- Especially when it comes to food items, avoid plastic as much as possible. Don’t buy it in the first place.
- If you buy bottled water, go with glass.
- Also avoid tin and aluminum cans as much as possible.
- Never put hot foods or liquids in contact with plastic.
- Forget Tupperware. Use glass or pyrex to store food.
- Use goods that are made of natural materials, like glass, wood, and metal, rather than plastic as much as possible.
- Keep plastics away from pregnant women, babies, and children as much as possible.
- Minimize your handling of thermal paper, i.e. receipts.
You’ll notice the words, as much as possible are written, in just about all of these.
You can’t eliminate plastic. But you can certainly cut back!
After diving into this research, I’ve re-doubled my efforts. I hope you will too.
But that’s not all. Because you can’t eliminate it all (hell, its even in the air!), you need to make sure your body is in the best position to fight it. You need to support your health in multiple ways to combat these pollutants since they can’t all be avoided.
- Support your detoxification channels. In addition to minimizing exposure, make sure your digestion, kidneys, liver, and skin are all working to detoxify best. Fast regularly. Make sure your nutrition is adequate to allow detoxification to run well.
- Sweat regularly. An infrared sauna is best.
- Clean up your environment. Get in nature. Get better quality water. Get better quality air. Get better quality food.
- Take supportive herbs and supplements. Pine pollen appears to not only aid in testosterone but seems to do some fighting against endocrine disruption via multiple channels. Schisandra is an adaptogen that supports liver detox. Shilajit is rich in fulvic and humic acids, known to pull out heavy metals, and who knows what else, while also being loaded with trace minerals. Chaga protects your DNA. And on and on I could go.
What Lost Empire Herbs is Doing
It’s ironic. We fight this hormone disruption by providing hormone supporting herbs…and these come to you in plastic bags. 🙁
We’re working on that. Right now we’re looking into making the switch to bags that are made from plant material and are biodegradable. Unfortunately, due to the state of the world, this is not the easiest thing to find. And of course, it will cost us more to do.
Our aim is to have made this transition by year’s end. It’s our commitment to quality. To you, to ourselves, to the herbs, to the environment.
In the meantime, what we recommend you do when you get herbs from us, or anyone else is to transfer them into glass jars. We sell miron glass jars for this purpose and also to better preserve the herbs from light degradation. But good ol’ mason jars are still better than plastic. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the environmental impact of those left over plastic bags, so that’s why we’re looking for a win-win solution.
As always your comments are appreciated. And stay tuned for the next article on the other issues of plastics coming soon…
- Blake, M. The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
- Mielke, H., Partosch, F., & Gundert-Remy, U. (2011). The contribution of dermal exposure to the internal exposure of bisphenol A in man. Toxicology Letters, 204(2-3), 190-198.
- Rudel, R. A., Brody, J. G., Spengler, J. D., Vallarino, J., Geno, P. W., Sun, G., & Yau, A. (2001). Identification of Selected Hormonally Active Agents and Animal Mammary Carcinogens in Commercial and Residential Air and Dust Samples. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 51(4), 499-513.
- Vom Saal FS; et al. (2007). “Chapel Hill bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement: integration of mechanisms, effects in animals and potential to impact human health at current levels of exposure”. Reprod Toxicol. 24 (2): 131–8.
- Ho SM, Tang WY, Belmonte de Frausto J, Prins GS. Developmental exposure to estradiol and bisphenol a increases susceptibility to prostate carcinogenesis and epigenetically regulates phosphodiesterase type 4 variant 4. Cancer Res. 2006;66(11):5624-32.
- Metz CM. Bisphenol A: Understanding the Controversy. Workplace Health Saf. 2016 Jan;64(1):28-36