BPA Still Present in Two-Thirds of Canned Goods

Story at-a-glance -

  • Despite promises to phase out use of BPA, two-thirds of cans still contain the hormone-mimicking chemical. Among the worst offenders are Campbell’s, General Mills, and Del Monte
  • Campbell’s and Del Monte have now announced they will remove BPA from their products by the middle of 2017 and this year respectively
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA are likely to contribute substantially to disease and dysfunction, including obesity, and result in about $209 billion in health and economic costs in the European Union

By Dr. Mercola

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that can be found in countless personal care and plastic products, including the liners of canned goods, plastic and non-stick food containers, plastic wraps, water bottles, and cashier's receipts.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, has consistently insisted BPA is safe,1 and has opposed both state and federal legislative proposals to ban the chemical.

Contrary to the weight of the evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also claims BPA is safe for use in food packaging,2,3   although it has banned the chemical from being used in sippy cups and other baby products due to potential health concerns to infants.

Health advocacy groups have relentlessly fought for the removal of the chemical though, and in response to consumer concerns many plastic product manufacturers and food companies have voluntarily agreed to stop using the chemical.

Two-Thirds of Cans Still Contain BPA

Despite industry promises, two-thirds of cans still contain the hormone-mimicking chemical according to a recent report.4,5 Among the worst of the worst were Campbell's, Del Monte, and General Mills.

All of Campbell's cans tested positive for BPA, as did 71 percent of Del Monte's and 50 percent of General Mills canned goods.

As noted by Janet Nudelman, director of Program and Policy at the advocacy group Breast Cancer Fund, and a co-author of the report: "This is shocking to us because we've been hearing for years now that the canned food industry en masse was moving away from BPA."

The report now urges major food manufacturers to create a comprehensive plan for the removal of BPA from all cans, to be transparent about their timeline for removal, and to ensure that replacement chemicals are in fact safe by sharing their safety data.

So far, this has not been the case. Many plastic bottle manufacturers, for example, simply swapped BPA for bisphenol-S (BPS) — a chemical that is very similar to BPA and has been shown to produce many of the same health effects.

In 2013, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch discovered that even minute concentrations — less than one part per trillion — of BPS can disrupt cellular functioning. Metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, and even cancer, can result from such disruptions.

So "BPA-free" products may very well leave you with a completely false sense of security. On March 28, Campbell's announced it will "complete a transition to cans which do not use Bisphenol-A (BPA) linings by the middle of 2017."6

Around the same time, Del Monte also announced it would phase out BPA by the end of this year.

How BPA May Affect Your Health

BPA, which mimics the hormone estrogen, has been linked to:

Structural damage to your brain; hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, ovarian toxicity,7 and infertility8
Breast cancer9 High blood pressure and heart disease10,11,12
Increased fat formation and risk of obesity Increased prostate size, decreased sperm production, hypospadias (penis deformation),13 erectile dysfunction,14 and stimulation of prostate cancer cells
Altered immune function Preterm birth15
Diabetes Reduced efficacy of chemotherapy treatment16

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), titled "State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals,"17 issued in 2014, endocrine-disrupting chemicals may need to be banned across the board to protect the health of future generations.

An Endocrine Society task force also recently issued a scientific statement18,19 on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), noting that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals are such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them.

EDCs like BPA are particularly concerning for pregnant women and young children, as they can interfere with normal physiology and maturation, even in extremely tiny amounts.

By mimicking your natural hormones, these chemicals can trick your body into increasing or decreasing hormone production or blocking hormone signals by binding to cell receptors. This is why compounds that interfere with these vital processes can produce such profound effects at such miniscule concentrations.

Canned Food May Be a Significant Source of BPA Exposure

Since natural hormones operate at parts per million and even parts per billion concentrations, many experts believe there may be NO safe level of exposure for EDCs. As for how much BPA you might get from canned goods, consider the following studies:

  • A 2011 study20 found that eating canned soup for five days increased study participants' urinary concentrations of BPA by more than 1,000 percent compared to eating freshly made soup.
  • In 2014, researchers showed that after drinking soy milk from a can, the levels of BPA in the participants' urine rose by about 1,600 percent compared to when they drank soy milk stored in glass.21
  • A 2015 study22 by Stanford University researchers revealed children may be exposed to potentially toxic levels of BPA via their school lunches.
  • Potential BPA exposures ranged from 0.00049 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight (μg/kg-BW) per day for a middle school student with a low-exposure breakfast to 1.19 μg/kg-BW/day for an elementary school student eating lunch with high exposure potential.

    This falls well below the U.S. EPA Oral Reference Dose of 50 μg/kg-BW/day, however animal studies suggest BPA may be toxic above 2 μg/kg-BW/day. According to the authors:   "The single meal doses modeled in this research are at the same order of magnitude as the low-dose toxicity thresholds, illustrating the potential for school meals to expose children to chronic toxic levels of BPA."

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Cost a Fortune in Medical Care 

Analysis to assess the economic burden of EDC exposure in the European Union (EU) has produced sobering statistics. One analysis23 estimates the healthcare costs of exposure to EDCs to be around $209 billion each year. According to this study:

"Expert panels achieved consensus at least for probable (>20 percent) EDC causation for IQ loss and associated intellectual disability, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder ... [C]hildhood obesity, adult obesity, adult diabetes, cryptorchidism, male infertility, and mortality associated with reduced testosterone."

The most problematic and most costly effect of EDCs is their effect on brain development and neurological function. Healthcare costs for neurological effects alone total at least $146 billion per year in the EU.24,25,26 BPA (as well as DDE and phthalates) are also strongly linked to obesity and diabetes.

Are BPA-Free Alternatives Any Safer?

As mentioned, in response to consumer demand for BPA-free products, many manufacturers switched to using BPS — a chemical in the same family as BPA, with a very similar influence on the endocrine system.27 This means these newly marketed "BPA-free" products are still a cause for concern, as they likely contain BPS, which is no better than BPA.

For example, researchers studying the effects of BPS on zebra fish embryos found that fish exposed to BPS in similar concentrations as that found in the water of a nearby river experienced explosive neuronal growth, which led to hyperactive and erratic behavior.28

Fish embryos exposed to BPS had a 170 percent increase in neuronal growth while those exposed to BPA had a 240 percent increase. Both chemicals also affected the thyroid hormone system. The authors told CNN:29

"Our research showed that low levels of BPS had a similar impact on the embryo as BPA. In the presence of either BPA or BPS, embryonic development was accelerated. Additionally, BPA caused premature birth."

Another study using rats found that exposure to either BPA or BPS caused heart arrhythmia in the females. Here, the dose used was similar to concentrations found in humans. The researchers discovered that BPS blocked an estrogen receptor found only in the females, which disrupted the calcium channels. This is also a common cause of heart arrhythmia in humans.

Most recently, research30 suggests BPS promotes fat cell formation, thereby increasing your risk of obesity. Interestingly, cells exposed to the smallest and the largest amounts of BPS accumulated the most amount of fat. Intermediate or "moderate" amounts resulted in the least amount of fat accumulation. According to Medical Daily:31

"The researchers attributed this anomaly to the fact that tiny amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals can interfere with the functioning of hormones, since small changes in hormone levels are designed to trigger adjustments in metabolism, respiration, heart rate, and other bodily functions, while moderate amounts are less triggering."

As noted in the featured video, without transparency about the safety research behind replacement chemicals, there's really no telling whether BPA-free cans are safe or not. As a result, I no longer recommend looking for the "BPA-free" seal, as it may not mean a whole lot in terms of safety. Your best bets are either to cook from scratch using whole unprocessed ingredients, or buy foods in glass jars rather than cans.

9 Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to BPA and Other EDCs

While canned goods may be a significant source of BPA and other EDCs, they're certainly not the only one. To limit your exposure to these hormone-wrecking chemicals, keep the following guidelines in mind when shopping for food, baby products, and other home goods.

Eat mostly fresh whole foods. Processed and packaged foods are a common source of BPA and phthalates — particularly cans, but also foods packaged in plastic wrap. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.

Use glass containers if heating food in your microwave, as heat tends to increase the release of chemicals from plastic.

Be aware that even "BPA-free" plastics typically leach other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad as BPA.
Look for products made by companies that are earth-friendly, animal-friendly, sustainable, certified organic and GMO-free.

This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, furniture, mattresses and more.
Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans. Check your home's tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.

You may also want to use an alternative to PVC pipes for your water supply.
Teach your children not to drink water from the garden hose to avoid plastic chemicals.
Be careful with cash register receipts. If you use a store regularly, encourage the management to switch to BPA-free receipts. Breastfeed your baby exclusively if possible, for at least the first year (to avoid EDC exposure from infant formula packaging and plastic bottles/nipples).

If bottle-feeding, use glass baby bottles rather than plastic ones.
Choose toys made from natural materials to avoid plastic chemicals like phthalates and BPA/BPS, particularly for items your child may be prone to suck or chew on.