BPA. It sounds like it would be a friendly acronym. Maybe something you would text to your friends. Unfortunately, this acronym, which stands for bisphenol A, has been popping up in the news lately. And the things being said about it aren’t so friendly. 

According to bisphenol-a.org, an online resource about the chemical, BPA is:

“...an industrial chemical used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins – both of which are used in countless applications that make our lives easier, healthier and safer, each and every day.” 

They are undoubtedly right about the countless applications part. There are the things that we might think of right off hand that we hear about all the time like those plastic water bottles we can’t live (or get on the treadmill) without. Then there are the things that we might not think about: aluminum cans, baby bottles, baby toys, water pipes — even our sunglasses!

The interesting (and potentially dangerous) thing about BPA is that it mimics estrogen in our bodies. In fact, thedailygreen.com reports that BPA was originally made in 1891 as a possible estrogen replacement therapy. And too many hormones in the body, as we well know, can have dangerous health consequences, especially when we are exposed to it all the time.

Dr. Randy Jirtle, a Duke University researcher, pointed out that this chemical only has a half life of six hours, but, since we are constantly exposed to it, it is possible that the effects never really leave our bodies. 

Even after 24 hours of no exposure, BPA levels in our bodies can drop, but it seems like they don’t ever really disappear.

And, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly 93% of Americans tested had BPA in their blood streams. Women had higher concentrations than men and, frighteningly, children and adolescents, who are likely more affected by the chemical, had the highest levels of all.

While, bisphenol-a.org has numerous studies on their website showing the BPA is actually not harmful, even the US Food and Drug Administration, which originally declared the chemical safe, is starting to think twice about their decision.

The FDA’s deputy commissioner, Johusa Sharfstein, told reporters in a January press conference: "We have some concern, which leads us to recommend reasonable steps the public can take to reduce exposure to BPA.”

This concern is that this chemical, which, let’s face it, is basically everywhere, can cause cancer, sexual dysfunction, infertility, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other things. 

And, while it isn’t great for you, what researchers seem to agree on is that it’s even worse for the smallest members of your family. 

BPA and Your Baby

So you know that BPA might not be great for you and your family. But the major area of concern for most researchers is that our babies — in-utero and out — are exposed to this stuff in droves.  

Duke University’s Dr. Randy Jirtle, a researcher focusing on the field of epigenetics, which looks at how what we do in our daily lives can change how our genes are expressed in future generations, has done some research on BPA, and his results were startling. 

While his preliminary research has been done only on mice, the research points to the fact that BPA exposure in the womb can put children at risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and delays in brain development.
On the bright side, mouse mothers who were fed genistein, an estrogen found in soy products, completely blocked the negative effects of the BPA. But Dr. Jirtle warns against thinking an all-soy diet is the way to go, as overconsumption of anything isn’t good.

We can make an extra special effort to avoid BPA when we’re pregnant, but what happens once our babies leave the womb? This is an especially scary thought when we think of all the ways our babies are exposed to BPA once they are eating and playing in the outside world. 
It might be obvious that a number of plastic baby bottles contain BPA, so breastfeeding or using glass bottles is a better choice, but what many new parents don’t realize is that the containers the formula they are using come in have BPA as well. Liquid formula often comes in containers lined with BPA.

Fortunately, the Canadian government took this health risk seriously and, in 2008, took measures to ban BPA in baby bottles and reduce BPA levels in formula. Maybe the US government will get on board with these measures soon.

Until then, what should parents do to reduce their baby’s exposure to this potentially harmful chemical? The Environmental Working Group has come up with a list of guidelines to help parents keep their baby’s exposure as low as possible.

  1. Breastfeed whenever possible.
  2. Use clear, silicone nipples, not latex.
  3. Use glass bottles.
  4. Don’t use plastic bottle liners.
  5. Use filtered tap water.
  6. Choose powdered formula, or, if you must use liquid, avoid metal containers.
  7. Heat bottles in a pan of warm water not the microwave.

These tips will help keep your little one safe, happy and reduce their exposure to BPA.

Living BPA-Free

We used to think that living in a plastic bubble would be the ultimate way to reduce the risks that are associated with, well, living! Now, however, with the possible dangers of BPA being revealed, it might have to be a glass bubble… 

And using glass is one of the best ways to keep your baby safe, but now what do you do about protecting your family’s grown-up members?

If you’re like me, every time you look at a plastic bottle of water, you can feel the BPA leaching into your body. In reality, though, the plastic bottle might not be public enemy number one. Surprisingly (to me, at least) the highest levels of BPA are found in cans and baby formula.

Cans: Canned foods, especially pastas and soups, contain high levels of BPA and the Environmental Working Group has reported that the BPA in the can does leach into the food we eat. It is probably best to avoid canned foods whenever possible, especially for pregnant women and children, and, when eating them is necessary, rinsing beans and veggies first might help reduce some of the exposure.

Plastics: You probably don’t have to completely avoid plastic, which is helpful since that might be next to impossible! Just make sure you aren’t using #7 plastics — the number is usually at the bottom of the product — since they can contain BPA.

Plastics labeled #1, #2 and #4 do not contain BPA and, therefore, might be safer choices. 

Water Bottles: Metal water bottles can be a great alternative to your normal plastic ones, but make sure that they don’t contain a plastic liner. Unlined stainless steel is a good choice.

Food Storage Containers: Don’t heat food or beverages in plastic containers. Switch to microwave- and oven-safe types of glass food storage containers to ensure that BPA doesn’t leach from them into your food.

Finally, don’t stress yourself too much about BPA. In reality, we are never going to totally be able to eliminate the risks that toxins present in our lives — even if we live in a bubble! 

Kristy Harvey


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