Why and How to Avoid BPAs

Yesterday I read this article about a new study which showed that regular exposure to BPA can impair insulin regulation in otherwise healthy adults.  That is- it inflicts symptoms similar to pre-diabetes, even on people who are not diabetic and otherwise don’t have any of the risk factors for diabetes.

For those who haven’t heard of BPA- full name Bisphenol A– it’s an organic compound that’s used in a variety of consumer goods, particularly plastics.  In particular, it’s used in water bottles, Tupperware, CDs and DVDs, and some plastic sports equipment.

Epoxy used to line water pipes, as well as the interior coatings of some canned goods, contain BPA.  Finally, it’s used in thermal paper- the kind of paper used to print receipts.

BPA is a xenoestrogen, and several previous studies have shown that it can throw off the body’s sex hormone system, causing low testosterone and infertility in men and irregular menstrual cycles in women.  This study, however, is the first to demonstrate that is also has damaging effects on the insulin system.

So how worried should you be?  Somewhat worried.  BPA is everywhere, and you’re being exposed to it all the time.  That’s both good and bad- bad because BPA is bad and you’d rather not be exposed to it, good because the fact that healthy people are exposed to it too, which means BPA exposure is no guarantee that your health will be ruined.

The bottom line: you don’t need to freak out, and you don’t need to never touch BPA ever again, but you do need to limit your exposure to it.  Here are a few simple ways you can reduce your BPA exposure by about 80% or so.

1.  Don’t drink bottled water brands that use BPA in their bottles.  Look for plastics that are labelled as “PET #1,” a type of plastic that is made without BPA.  Unfortunately this type of plastic is rarely used in single-serve water bottles. Plastics number 2, 4 and 5 are also good, but less common.

Unfortunately, even most “safe” plastics still shouldn’t be filled with hot liquids, which will cause more possibly toxic chemicals to leak into the water.  Your best bet will usually be to buy a reusable water bottle (ideally metal rather than plastic) and fill it at home or from water fountains.

2.  Don’t use tupperware containers with BPA in them.  Again, look for numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5.  Better yet, use glass containers.

3.  Avoid touching receipts whenever possible.  Don’t bother taking a receipt unless you think you might need to return your purchase, or need to save it for an expense report.  If you’re a cashier, wear gloves.

Again, there’s no need to completely avoid BPA.  Just doing these three things will eliminate most of your exposure, improve your insulin regulation and help to bring your sex hormone system back into balance.  Like most things, there’s no need to become one of those health nuts who tries to be “perfect” and takes it to a maybe-pathological level- following the 80/20 rules is good enough.

-John