What is BPA and should I be concerned?

When we think of plastic pollution, we normally imagine harmed sea turtles and a seahorse curling its tail over a cotton swab. However, it is not only marine life and ocean ecosystems that plastic threatens. Some of the chemicals used to make up the omnipresent material may leach into food from storage or beverage containers and potentially affect human health. One such chemical is bisphenol A (BPA), which has been a subject of great controversy in the past few years due to concerns raised about its impact on human health.

BPA is a chemical present in certain plastics and resins such as casings of mobile phones and computers to harden them. In food products, it is used in water bottles and food containers, and in inner linings of cans and tins to protect their contents from being contaminated by the metal. Even more importantly, it can be found in baby bottles as it makes them shatterproof. From there, BPA may sometimes find its way into food.

It has been a subject of controversy since The Independent published a series of reports in 2010 on the presence of the chemical in common food products. According to the series of articles published, it used to be one of the highest production volume chemicals in the world: “BPA is used in the linings of 18 out of the 20 products, which have combined annual sales of £921 million, or 43 per cent of UK tinned food sales [as of 2010].”

BPA raises concerns as it is claimed to be an endocrine disruptor. More specifically, it mimics oestrogen, binds to endocrine receptors and therefore can influence bodily processes, such as foetal development, growth and cell repair. It can also interact with other hormone receptors, altering their function. As a result, BPA may cause infertility in men and women and have negative effects on foetuses and infants. Additionally, it may raise the risk of obesity and cause other health issues.

It is more than appropriate to be concerned about the presence of BPA in our food, particularly for pregnant women. It is not possible to avoid the chemical completely, but you can reduce your exposure in the following ways: eat fresh whole foods which rarely come in containers with BPA, avoid packaged food with recycling numbers 3, 7, or letters PC, buy drinks in glass bottles or use your own, use products made of glass or steel (this is also more eco-friendly), make sure to buy BPA-free toys for your children, especially the ones they are likely to suck on or chew, and do not microwave food in plastic containers.

Image Credit: Derneuemann via Pixabay

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