It’s invisible, tasteless and odorless and yet it is found in many of the foods and beverages that we consume. It is BPA, short for bisphenol A.
BPA is a synthetic estrogen that has measurable biological effects. What is it doing in our food?
The December issue of Consumer Reports (CR) revealed that many common products, including some brands of canned green beans, vegetable soup and chicken noodle soup, contain levels of BPA that are surprising. Experts for CR calculated that an adult eating just one serving of canned green beans from the sample would get about 80 times more BPA than the recommended daily upper limit.
Vegetables don’t come with BPA in them naturally. The compound is presumably leaching out of the linings of metal cans. Cans are usually lined with an epoxy that uses BPA in its makeup. Although some soft drink and beer cans may also have such linings, CR did not report testing the beverages.
Many people are aware of a controversy over BPA in hard plastic (polycarbonate) water and baby bottles. Infants are more sensitive to environmental exposures, and there is concern that being exposed to synthetic estrogen at an early age could lead to developmental problems. Canada banned BPA-containing baby bottles from the market, and many manufacturers in the U.S. now offer BPA-free alternatives.
In animals, even low-level exposure to BPA in utero or early infancy can lead to genital abnormalities. It makes female animals more likely to develop breast cancer (Reproductive Toxicology, Nov/Dec., 2008) and male animals more susceptible to prostate cancer (Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Feb., 2008). Exposed animals may also have higher cholesterol levels and are more likely to be fat and to develop diabetes (Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis, Vol. 14, No. 5, 2007).
Deliberately exposing human babies to this hormone disruptor to see what effects it has would be unethical. And yet we are all exposed. About 92 percent of Americans who have been tested have measurable amounts of BPA in their urine.
Although some skeptics have expressed doubt that this has relevance for health, a recent report from China demonstrates that adult men exposed to relatively high levels of BPA on the job were four times more likely than non-exposed workers to report sexual difficulties such as lowered libido, reduced satisfaction and erectile dysfunction (Human Reproduction, online Nov. 10, 2009).
The Chinese research is very recent, but we have been tracking reports of trouble with BPA for some time. Anyone who would like to hear some of the country’s leading experts on estrogen discuss their concerns and recommendations about BPA may be interested in our hour-long interview on Sex Hormone Disruption. It can be downloaded as an MP3 at www.peoplespharmacy.com.
It is possible to reduce levels of BPA in food packaging. The Japanese removed it from cans several years ago and found that BPA levels in people dropped dramatically. Choosing foods and beverages carefully may reduce our exposure as well.

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  1. The Healthy Librarian
    Reply

    CSM thanks for mentioning my post summarizing the Consumer Reports article about BPA.
    Thanks to Joe & Terry for providing such up-to-date info, and bringing in the experts to speak on a variety of subjects. I’m a huge fan of yours!
    It’s actually not so hard to avoid canned food. It’s just a matter of changing habits.
    Look for soups & tomatoes in Tetra boxes. Buy fresh or frozen vegetables. And by all means, use juice boxes or glass bottles for beverages.
    I’m starting to use my crockpot for beans–and freezing them.
    For more info from a variety of sources on how to avoid BPA, and what the experts in the field are saying, here are 2 of my summaries on the subject.
    http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2008/04/cleaning-up-my.html
    http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2008/05/add-autism-hype.html
    For those of you who want to see the specific detail of products tested by Consumer Reports, you can click on the PDF of the test results within this post:
    http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2009/11/bpa.html

  2. Melinda
    Reply

    A great alternative for canned broths (chicken, vegetable and beef) is the concentrated jars. They are not only great tasting, they are packaged in glass, have less packaging (good for the environment), and I am not carrying home heavy cans or even the heavy cartons (which I believe are BPA-free).

  3. ap
    Reply

    What can the ordinary consumer do to avoid ingesting BPA?

  4. Doug
    Reply

    How can someone in the US get the Japanese canned goods?

  5. CSM
    Reply

    Peoples Pharmacy, THANK YOU for bringing this to your audience’s attention!!
    Assume ALL cans have BPA–even organic products.
    Here is “Organic Grace”: specific info about what companies use BPA: http://organicgrace.com/node/316
    Read much more here at this Medical information blog: http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2009/11/bpa.html
    (I am not associated with either of these sites.)
    Maybe the sexual dysfunction threat will increase the company CEOs and legislature to get moving with making changes in this practice of using BPA in cans.

  6. PF
    Reply

    What about the plastic epoxies used to fill teeth, now that mercury fillings are out? Don’t those plastics contain BPA also? And what about the plastic retainers that kids wear after they get their braces off? I’m wondering about BPA in those. The dentists I’ve asked are strangely defensive about the health hazards of BPA in the products they use. I’ve been told by my dentist that it is “completely safe, and has been around 50 years.” Hmm.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: SEALANTS THAT KEEP KIDS’ TEETH SAFE FROM CAVITIES OFTEN CONTAIN BPA. WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT RETAINERS. BPA HAS IN FACT BEEN AROUND 50 YEARS OR PERHAPS LONGER, BUT WE STILL KNOW TOO LITTLE ABOUT ITS SAFETY.

  7. M
    Reply

    Yes, I’d like to know how one knows if a canned good has BPA in it.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: WE WISH THAT CONSUMER REPORTS HAD PUBLISHED THE ENTIRE LIST, BUT THE ARTICLE MENTIONED ONLY A FEW NAMES.
    WE HAVE HEARD THAT A FEW BRANDS (SUCH AS TRADER JOE’S AND EDEN ORGANICS) ARE AVOIDING BPA CONTAINING LININGS FOR THEIR CANNED GOODS.

  8. Cindy B.
    Reply

    You mention above that there’s a “recommended daily upper limit” for BPA exposure. Yet click on the “sex hormone disruption” link in the same article and we’re told that it’s not known what BPA’s actual effects are in humans. Well, then, if the negative impacts are neither known or quantified, what the heck do they base that “upper limit” on? And if eating “just one serving” of a certain brand of canned beans can provide BPA in excess of “80 times the recommended limit,” then wouldn’t that be a real health emergency if that upper limit number was correctly assessed? And just what the heck would that particular brand of canned beans be? It is untenable to throw out a statement like that and then just “walk away,” not even providing a link. I do eat lots of canned foods so of course I’m concerned…
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: WE DON’T KNOW WHAT EXPERTS CONSUMER REPORTS CONSULTED. YOU CAN LEARN MORE, THOUGH, IF YOU FIND THAT DECEMBER 2009 ISSUE IN YOUR LIBRARY.

  9. Bernard
    Reply

    How does one know if a canned good has BPA in it?
    So I guess it is better to use frozen.

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