For those of us who are conscious of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in plastics – we know that bisphenol-A (BPA) is a xenooestrogen and can have a negative effect on our health. But if you’ve not yet heard about BPA, or have no idea about what an EDC is – let me fill you in.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are mostly man-made, found in various materials such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products. And BPA is just one of them. Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion – but only a fraction of those chemicals have been investigated.
United Nations agencies have warned that the disease risk due to EDCs may have been significantly under-estimated. The UN Environment (UNEP) and World Health Organisation (WHO) are aware of their link to early breast development, poor semen quality, low birthweight in babies and rising cancer rates and have called for more research. If you’re interested you can find the full report here.
BPA is BAD
BPA is one of the more publicised EDCs and was first recognised to have oestrogenic activity (hence the label ‘xenooestrogen’) like a synthetic drug in 1936 long before it was used to form polycarbonate plastic and resins in the early 1950s. Interest and concern about the health effects of BPA have been growing, following reports that the health effects seen in exposed animals are also on the rise in humans. These include breast and prostate cancer, regional decline in sperm counts, abnormal penile/urethra development in males, early sexual maturation in females, increasing neurobehavioural problems, increasing prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and immune system effects. Studies also suggest that BPA is related to endometriosis-type effects, infertility, and sexual dysfunction, poor immune function and issues with foetal and early childhood brain development. And hundreds of studies demonstrate this at levels well below the the level which the EPA consider ‘acceptable’.
If you haven’t heard the term ‘xenooestrogen’ before, in a nutshell it is a class of chemicals that are structurally similar to the natural oestrogen we make in our bodies and that, in turn, can bind to our oestrogen receptors and have an effect on our hormonal balance – whether you’re male or female. They can block natural oestrogen and have a more potent effect on our receptors which can cause symptoms of hormonal imbalance (PMS for example) and have the potential to initiate or exacerbate hormone-dependant cancers i.e. breast cancer.
The USFDA announced in January 2010 it had ‘some concern’ about its potential effects on the brain, behaviour and prostate glands of unborn babies, newborns and young children and called for industry to remove it. Later that year, in October, Canada declared BPA a toxic substances and banned its use in baby bottles. The European Commission followed in March 2011 announcing a ban on the manufacture of baby bottles containing BPA – barring all sales 3 months later.
For that reason there has been a growing awareness around BPA and a subsequent movement towards the manufacture of BPA-free plastics – in particular plastic water bottles – which I believe are a big problem. In addition to the horrendous impact on the environment (which you can explore further here) the impact of plastic bottles on our health is also devastating.
The issue of BPA leaching into our food and drink is more problematic the softer the plastic is (the harder plastics tend to use less), the temperature of the contents (if you’re putting in cold food/liquid, as opposed to hot – which leaches more), and whether the contents are liquid or solid (liquids have a much greater surface area and therefore contact with the plastic)
The worst thing you can do is repeatedly use the same plastic drinking bottle and leave it exposed to heat and sun in your car.
BPA-free is not as safe as you think
The issue I have with BPA-free materials is, oftentimes the BPA is replaced by BPS, BPP, BPF or some other BP analogue – which appear to be just as xenooestrogenic as BPA!! A European study found that BPS was just as oestrogenic as BPA, also backed up by a later study in the US that found BPS and BPF were just as hormonally active as BPA. What upsets me about this is many people actively look for and purchase BPA-free materials believing they are making a better choice for their health.
I would stick to material we know to be inert (or unreactive) like glass or stainless steel. Especially for water bottles or hot beverages. For food storage, ideally use glassware with a plastic lid (that does not come into contact with the contents) or if you’re going to use plastic storage containers – fill them once the food has cooled down and remove the food from the plastic container for reheating.
The only ‘plastic’ bottles I have seen that have been tested and shown not to leach into water are those made from a material called Tritan. Otherwise, you can check out some of my favourite glass/stainless steel options below.
If you’d like a bottle that let’s you infuse fresh fruits or loose-leaf tea, try these:
If you don’t have access to a water filter at work, or at home – this is a very cost-effective option otherwise you can get a water bottle that filters your water for you as you go. Please note this one is primarily designed to remove heavy metals, pesticides and other manmade contaminants. It is not suitable for filtering diseases from water whilst travelling (but there is such a thing if you need that too!).