Is BPA-free Really Safe? 8 Steps to Get Bisphenols Out
Most of us have seen the BPA-free labels and ads for some of the consumer goods we buy – even many plastic children’s toys – are now labeled as “BPA-free.”
But is BPA-free necessarily what we think it is? Is it really Bisphenol free? Furthermore, if a plastic doesn’t contain any bisphenol, does it not disrupt hormones?
Sorry, but chances are, even if it says BPA-free, current modern plastics will still disrupt our hormones.
In fact, many plastic goods that are labeled BPA-free actually are made with two other bisphenol products, called bisphenol-S and bisphenol-F. These are referred to as BPS and BPF – to replace BPA.
So is Bisphenol-S safe?
Bisphenol S—also known as BPS — has certainly been promoted as a safer form of bisphenol, and many products that contain it are labeled as “BPA-free.” Both BPA and BPS are often used in polycarbonate plastic goods. And there are sure a lot of these types of plastic goods around.
And one of the reasons why many think BPS was safe is because some observations showed the BPS leached less than BPA – and this would necessarily mean less was absorbed into the body. Makes sense, right?
Bisphenol-S has the chemical formula of (HOC6H4)2SO2. BPA – bisphenol-A has the chemical formula (CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2. Yes, there are differences between the chemical formulas. But the issue is the double phenol groups (hence the term bisphenol) which can leach from a plastic good and become absorbed into the body. This absorption can occur from skin contact, eating and drinking things packaged or stored in plastic. It can also come from handling store receipts and even many types of paper currencies.
BPS affects brain development
New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has determined that bisphenol-S will change the way brain cells develop in embryo zebrafish.
In the study, from the University of Calgary School of Medicine, BPS exposure increased the number of neurons by 180 percent compared to zebrafish not exposed to BPS during early development. The BPS exposure then reduced neuron generation during later development. Other tests showed up to 240 percent increased neurons during early development.
According to the researchers, the increased and then decreased neuron development corresponded with the second trimester of pregnancy. These changes during development, they reported, affects how those neurons will connect and form brain circuits—affecting brain and cognitive development.
Because human and zebrafish share about 80 percent of the same genes, and their brain development corresponds closely.
And a 2014 article in Scientific American notes that some 81 percent of Americans have endocrine-disrupting levels of BPS in the blood.
As stated in the article:
And once it [BPS] enters the body it can affect cells in ways that parallel BPA. A 2013 study by Cheryl Watson at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that even picomolar concentrations (less than one part per trillion) of BPS can disrupt a cell’s normal functioning, which could potentially lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, asthma, birth defects or even cancer. “[Manufacturers] put ‘BPA-free’ on the label, which is true. The thing they neglected to tell you is that what they’ve substituted for BPA has not been tested for the same kinds of problems that BPA has been shown to cause. That’s a little bit sneaky,” Watson says.
In other words, the endocrine-disruption that takes place from bisphenol-A – because the bisphenol mimics estradiol in the body – also takes place with bisphenol-S.
Endocrine disruption from bisphenols
When the bisphenol attaches to endocrine receptors as estradiol would, this changes our metabolism.
This can result in
- brain fog
- menstruation issues
- prostate irregularities
- irregular or decreased sperm counts
And because the bisphenols can build up in the blood and cells, they can produce development problems in babies, affecting brain development and learning.
Various studies have found that more than 90 percent of Americans have endocrine-disrupting levels of BPA in the blood. The CDC has noted that Americans have in some tests, nearly double the levels of BPA compared to Canadians.
How to rid the body of these bisphenols?
This of course brings the question of how to rid the body of bisphenols. Here is a list of strategies that can help – some are pretty obvious, but some aren’t. They come from research
1. Avoid drinking water and juices from plastic bottles
2. Avoid canned foods lined with BPA or BPS
3. Avoid buying foods in bisphenol plastics
4. Avoid cooking foods contained in plastic in the microwave
5. Avoid handling plastic toys and sporting equipment for lengthy periods
6. Minimize time handling receipts and cash
7. Eat more fresh fruits and fresh vegetables
8. Use regular sustainable cleansing strategies with diet and herbs.
As for canned foods, many canned foods now contain polyethylene terephthalate (PET) linings rather than bisphenol-A rich linings. This is not bisphenol-S – this is truly bisphenol-free. In addition, many food manufacturers have also claimed BPA-free – but many aren’t saying what they are replacing the BPA with. Is it BPS? You’ll have to ask them.
How many plastics really contain hormone disruptors?
As for plastics in general, a 2011 study by CertiChem Inc. researchers from Austin tested 455 plastic goods of various types. They investigated whether or not the plastics were endocrine disruptors. Most of the plastics did not contain bisphenol-A or bisphenol-S – as many were baby bottles, plastic wraps and other goods that had been made without BPA or BPS.
Nonetheless, the researchers found that nearly ALL of the plastic goods leached endocrine disruptors of one sort or another.
The researchers wrote of their study results:
“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled–independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source–leached chemicals having reliably detectable estrogenic activity, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more estrogenic activity than did BPA-containing products.”
Handling receipts and cash
Certainly avoiding plastics is the most obvious in this list. But what about handling receipts? That seems a bit much, isn’t it?
A recent study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health determined that handling cash register receipts can significantly increase bisphenol-A exposure. Just as much of the BPA exposure comes, receipt exposure comes through the skin as we handle the thermal paper printed from those credit card receipt machines.
The Finnish researchers studied 121 people. Before they were tested with receipts, they found their average BPA urinary excretion levels was 2.6 micrograms per liter. Then the subjects handled thermal paper in a manner similar to that observed by a cashier in a store – handling thermal paper three times every five minutes. These were compared to controls who didn’t handle the receipts.
Those subjects who handled the thermal paper had increased BPA urinary excretions. The average increase in urinary BPA excretions were a little less than 0.2 micrograms per liter per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of body weight.
Yes, these levels showed noticeably increased exposure. On the other side of the coin, the researchers stated the daily intake of this cashier-type exposure was still some 25 times lower than the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) proposed temporary tolerable daily intake – which is five micrograms per kilogram per day.
One might figure – heck that still isn’t much. But the issue is the multiplier effect. As this exposure is added to other exposures – from contact with plastic goods and foods – this will add to our accumulation of bisphenol in the body.
Furthermore, this study and others (see 2010 study below) have found that the type of BPA exposure from receipts is alarming, because it is a powdery residue that immediately penetrates the dermal layer of the skin to become absorbed into the body.
And there is another issue related to a lot of receipt paper as well as many currency papers: Much of these have now been lined with a more dermal-penetrating bisphenol-S rather than bisphenol-A.
And it turns out, according to a study from the New York State Department of Health and New York University, researchers collected 111 samples of currencies and various recycled papers and receipts. The research found that 87 percent of the currencies had BPS and 52 percent of recycled paper had BPS.
The researchers then calculated that people who handle these papers were absorbing some 19 times more BPS than was absorbed from BPA-containing currencies and papers. They added that those who handle receipts were likely absorbing much greater quantities than they absorbed before in the form of BPA.
But how about U.S. currency? Does this contain bisphenols? A 2010 study from Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families found that 21 out of 22 U.S. paper currency notes were contaminated with bisphenol-A residues. This, they found, came from people handling receipts and then handling the money – wiping the BPA residues – now together with BPS – onto the money.
Can foods really decrease our bisphenol levels?
Multiple studies have shown that not only will small amounts of BPA and BPS affect our metabolism, but they are also readily detoxified by a healthy immune system – assuming the chronic intake is reduced or eliminated, and our detoxification processes are stimulated.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables will not only result in reduced BPA and BPS accumulation in the body. These foods will also stimulate the immune system and speed up our removal of BPA and BPS from our tissues and bloodstream.
Probiotics hasten bisphenol detoxification
One of the strategies discussed in the book relates to our probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to accellerate the breakdown and thus help detoxify many types of toxins.
Illustrating this with respect to BPA, in 2008, Belgium researchers tested BPA clearing with two probiotics – Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei. They found that those rats who ate a diet containing these probiotics excreted BPA within the feces some 240% higher than BPA excretion by rats not fed the probiotics.
They also found that BPA levels in the bloodstream were significantly lower among the rats fed the probiotics.
Is there any hope for a bisphenol-free future?
Yes! The hope lies in us – our purchasing habits. And yes, plastics can be made without hormone disruptors – BPA or BPS or others. This was stated clearly by the chemists from Austin, Texas who tested the 455 plastic goods:
“However, we can identify existing compounds, or have developed, monomers, additives, or processing agents that have no detectable estrogenic activity and have similar costs. Hence, our data suggest that estrogenic activity-free plastic products exposed to common-use stresses and extracted by saline and ethanol solvents could be cost-effectively made on a commercial scale and thereby eliminate a potential health risk posed by most currently available plastic products that leach chemicals having estrogenic activity into food products.”
So this is by no means a lost cause. Chemists have already determined various chemical agents that do not disrupt hormones. So it is up to us – consumers – to insist that our consumer good manufacturers – who are the customers of plastic manufacturers – supply products that do not disrupt our hormones.
In the meantime can also choose more fresh foods – from farmer’s markets and bulk food venues.
We consumers have the power. We can change corporations and markets by what we choose to buy.
Bilbrey J. BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous: Animal studies find that a replacement compound for the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A may also be harmful to human health. Scient Amer. Aug 11, 2014.
Liao C, Liu F, Kannan K. Bisphenol s, a new bisphenol analogue, in paper products and currency bills and its association with bisphenol a residues. Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Jun 19;46(12):6515-22. doi: 10.1021/es300876n.
Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan VC, Klein DJ, Bittner GD. Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul;119(7):989-96. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003220.
Porras SP, Heinälä M, Santonen T. Bisphenol A exposure via thermal paper receipts. Toxicol Lett. 2014 Nov 4;230(3):413-20. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2014.08.020.
Chunyang Liao, Fang Liu, Kurunthachalam Kannan. Bisphenol S, a New Bisphenol Analogue, in Paper Products and Currency Bills and Its Association with Bisphenol A Residues. Environmental Science & Technology, 2012; 46 (12): 6515 DOI: 10.1021/es300876n
Schreder E. On the money: BPA on money and receipts. Washington Toxics Coalition. Dec. 2010.
Oishi K, Sato T, Yokoi W, Yoshida Y, Ito M, Sawada H. Effect of probiotics, Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei, on bisphenol A exposure in rats. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2008 Jun;72(6):1409-15.