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Adults and children can reduce their exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, including bisphenol-A (BPA), by eating more fruits and vegetables and less food from plastic containers and metal cans, according to a recent study. A group of 20 San Francisco residents had 66% less BPA in their urine after spending three days on a diet of fresh, organic and unpackaged food, scientists found.

Their levels of another chemical, bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or DEHP, fell 53% to 56%.

“The is the first study to provide clear evidence that food packaging is a major source of BPA and DEHP exposure in children and adults,” says co-author Julia G. Brody, executive director of the Silent Spring Institute, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that studies environmental factors in women’s health.

BPA is so prevalent in food packaging and other consumer items that prior research has detected its presence in at least 90% of Americans. It’s used to harden plastics in products such as bottles and cups and is also found in the linings of metal cans and thermal cash register receipts. Phthalates such as DEHP are used to soften PVC and other plastics.

Much debate exists about what constitutes a safe level of these chemicals, which have been linked in studies to breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, male infertility and other health problems

Much debate exists about what constitutes a safe level of these chemicals, which have been linked in studies to breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, male infertility and other health problems.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastic manufacturers, argues BPA levels remain safe. In Jan. 2010, the Food and Drug Administration expressed “some concerns” about its potential effects on the brain development of fetuses, infants and children. It did not say the chemical is unsafe.

“FDA supports reasonable steps to reduce exposure of infants to BPA in the food supply,” said FDA spokesman Douglas Karas, noting infants are particularly sensitive because their neurological and endocrine systems are still developing.

Karas said the U.S. government is spending $30 million for the National Institutes of Health to research BPA’s safety, and the FDA is supporting the efforts of food packaging companies to find alternatives. More U.S. cities and states, led by Chicago, Connecticut and Minnesota, are banning BPA use in food and drink containers intended for children 3 and younger. Canada has banned its use in baby bottles, and beginning in June, the European Union will ban the import and sale of such bottles if they contain BPA.

To detect the impact on food packaging, a team of nine scientists — some with Brody’s group and others with the Breast Cancer Fund — studied five families in San Francisco, each with two children and two adults, in January 2010. They tested the participants’ urine before, during and after a three-day diet that consisted of organic, fruits, vegetables, grains and meat and banned plastic utensils as well as storage and heating containers. Their research appeared recently in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The American Chemistry Council, in a statement, said the study shows “consumers have minute exposures to BPA and DEHP from food sources, and that the substances do not stay in the body, but are quickly eliminated through natural means.”

The study found that BPA levels went back up once families returned to their regular diets. Its authors recommend these five tips to reduce exposure to BPA and other hormone-disrupting chemicals:

1. Fresh is Best

BPA and phthalates can migrate from the linings of cans and plastic packaging into food and drinks. While it’s not practical to avoid food packaging altogether, opt for fresh or frozen instead of canned food as much as possible.

2. Eat In

Studies have shown that people who eat more meals prepared outside the home have higher levels of BPA. To reduce your exposure, consider cooking more meals at home with fresh ingredients. When you do eat out, choose restaurants that use fresh ingredients.

3. Store it Safe

Food and drinks stored in plastic can collect chemicals from the containers, especially if the foods are fatty or acidic. Next time, try storing your leftovers in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic.

4. Don't Microwave in Plastic

Warmer temperatures increase the rate of chemicals leaching into food and drinks. So use heat resistant glass or ceramic containers when you microwave, or heat your food on the stove. The label “microwave safe” means safety for the container, not your health.

5. Brew the Old-Fashioned Way

Automatic coffee makers may have BPA and phthalates in their plastic containers and tubing. When you brew your coffee, consider using a French press to get your buzz without the BPA.

Food Packaging and Bisphenol A and Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate Exposure: Findings from a Dietary Intervention

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