Scientists from the University of Exeter conducted a study to discover the extent of public exposure to a chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA). The chemical is known to be dangerous to humans, and is especially dangerous for children and for pregnant women. Once in the body, it mimics the sex hormone estrogen. Exposure to even small amounts of BPA is associated with a number of diseases including obesity and cancer. The body's hormones regulate bodily functions from reproduction, development, behavior, intelligence and even insulin production.
Researchers suspect that people of all ages have a measurable level of BPA in their blood and body tissues, since the chemical has been used in production of plastic products since the 1960s, from CDs and DVDs to plastic cutlery and drinking bottles. Some earlier government studies determined that up to 93 percent of the US population over the age of six has measurable amounts of BPA in their bloodstream. The Exeter study found that 86% of the teenage subjects in their study had measurable BPA levels in their urine.
Plastic is all around us and labeling laws vary a great deal, so it's not always clear when you're at risk of exposure. Even the coating on cash register receipts is loaded with BPA. In fact it's not even certain what “too much exposure” means at this point. Scientists have found BPA causes harm to people even at levels far below government-regulated safe limits. Not only that, alternative chemicals are used to achieve the same effects as BPA in plastic production, but the replacement chemicals used so far all come from the same bisphenol family of compounds and all have similar estrogen-mimicing properties, since their chemical structures are nearly identical. You could be drinking from a BPA-free bottle and ingesting bisphenol E, bisphenol F, bisphenol AF, or another variant without even knowing it.
What can you do to limit exposure? The Exeter study offered some tips:
Professor Tamara Galloway, lead author of the research, said: ‘We found that a diet designed to reduce exposure to BPA, including avoiding fruit and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, had little impact on BPA levels in the body.’
Previous research has shown people risk higher exposure if they repeatedly use plastic bottles containing BPA, because of wear over time, and if they heat up plastic tubs containing the industrial substance in the microwave.
Diets and other good habits designed to regulate the body's metabolism and hormone balance can help, but reducing exposure to all unnecessary plastics is certainly a good start.
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