BPA in Your Body May Be 44 Times Higher Than Reported

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

bpa exposure

Story at-a-glance -

  • Independent testing shows your level of exposure to BPA may be as much as 44 times higher than previously reported
  • Scientists argue the FDA is using inadequate tests that underestimate levels of this endocrine-disrupting chemical
  • The government believes there is enough evidence to remove BPA from children's items, yet it remains in products used by pregnant women
  • The FDA appears reluctant to change their testing methodology, clinging to the idea BPA poses no health risk and ignoring the mounting evidence of opposing peer-reviewed studies
  • Exposure to BPA and other endocrine disruptors can be reduced by using only glass to store food, eating mostly fresh, whole food, and having your tap water tested and filtered if necessary

BPA was created in 1891; by the 1930s scientists had discovered that the chemical mimics the hormone estrogen in the body. In the 1950s BPA was being used by industry as a chemical to produce strong and often transparent plastic; it’s now known as an endocrine disruptor.1

It took until 2011, however, for the European Union to ban BPA in baby bottles and 2012 before the FDA followed suit.2 According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the chemical is widely used in polycarbonate plastics that are integrated into nearly every industry, including the food industry.

Citizen watchdog groups have petitioned the FDA to remove BPA from packaging that comes in contact with food, but their efforts have been thwarted.3 On its website the FDA states that it believes4 “the available information continues to support the safety of BPA for the currently approved uses in food containers and packaging.”

Contrary to the FDA’s approach, the EPA5 believes BPA is a “reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic, there are questions about its potential impact particularly on children's health and the environment.”

Researchers noted in a study published in Environmental Health Sciences that, previously, it was believed that exposure to BPA not only occurs mostly through food, but is quickly cleared from the body. But, when they studied BPA in urine from fasting subjects, they discovered the half-life of BPA, or the time it takes for half the amount ingested to be metabolized, is much longer than they’ve thought.6

Since the levels of BPA did not drop as quickly as expected, they theorized that either BPA builds up in body tissue or there is significant nonfood exposure — or both.

Independent Tests Show Higher BPA Levels Than Published

New information also shows that traditional testing used by governmental agencies may have underestimated your exposure to BPA. One group of researchers7 developed a new test to measure BPA metabolites present after the body begins breaking down the chemical.

Following analysis of the data, the authors argued traditional tests used to measure BPA in the body are inaccurate.8 The tests in current use by the FDA indirectly measure the presence of BPA by converting metabolites back to BPA through an enzyme pathway. In their background research, the scientists found:

“Experimental and epidemiological studies provide compelling evidence of a causal link between increasing exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (environmental contaminants with the potential to perturb the development and function of the endocrine system) and increases in non-communicable diseases, including most aspects of metabolic syndrome.”

An expert at Washington State University told Gizmodo the assumption had always been that the original method would be accurate. However, the research team consistently found higher levels of BPA using their testing method. Some levels were measured 44 times higher than estimated by government tests of the same samples.

One of the researchers spoke with Gizmodo and said the implications are especially troubling in those with potentially high exposure, as it’s possible current screening programs are completely missing those at high risk.

This could make it even more difficult to uncover the extensive health impacts of BPA. While the impact of higher levels is still under investigation, the FDA’s assurances that there is little to worry about is questionable since the scale of exposure may be drastically underestimated.

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Implications of New Test Method Go Far Beyond BPA

BPA may be the poster child for toxic chemicals in mainstream media, but the new testing method reveals there could be further implications for other chemicals. After a one-year investigation, Environmental Health News (EHN) found a “willful blindness”9 on the part of the FDA in handling the science behind BPA.

They concluded10 regulators could be “operating at the fringes of scientific integrity, possibly with the intent to keep the current testing and regulatory regime intact and to avoid scrutiny.” EHN read hundreds of emails under the Freedom of Information Act. After analyzing the data, they wrote:

  • “FDA and industry scientists continue to use decades-old study methods that fail to detect effects known to be associated with BPA exposure;
  • Emails between federal employees suggest an effort to ignore evidence of harm;
  • Biased data interpretation methods by the FDA;
  • Sharp disagreement between the FDA regulators and health officials at the National Institutes of Health on the safety of BPA and what messages are relayed to the public.”

The investigative journalists at EHN believe the analysis in the feature study uphold their arguments the FDA testing is woefully inadequate. Laura Vandenberg is a health researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She was not involved in the study, but discussed the results with EHN.

As she describes, chemical evaluation may include an assessment of how much of the chemical could be found in consumer products or food that drives exposure. A laboratory assessment is then done based on measurements of human exposure.

Vandenberg points out that when exposure assessments are not accurate, it can throw off the entire result. This study highlights the need to standardize the direct measurement of metabolites and may have a significant impact on measurement of other toxic chemicals in the environment.

BPA Once Considered for Pharmaceutical Hormone

In the 1930s after it was discovered that BPA mimics the activity of estrogen, it was in the running to be developed into a pharmacological hormone by Big Pharma.11 Instead they chose another synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), that was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over the next 30 years before its health risks were discovered.

BPA was then used in the chemical industry. In 1963 it was approved for food and beverage containers and classified is “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). The argument was the chemical had been used in consumer products for years without obviously causing damage.

Thirty years later in 1993 — the length of time it took the damaging effects of DES to be documented — scientists at Stanford discovered BPA was seeping from lab flasks. It took until 1997, though, for the first studies documenting health damage to be published, after scientists conducted an animal study that demonstrated exposure to tiny amounts of BPA changed the reproductive system and prostate in mice.

By 2008 Canada decided enough evidence had been presented to demonstrate that BPA is toxic; it wasn’t long before manufacturers removed it from baby bottles and sippy cups. However, many of the BPA substitutes currently used in products have a similar chemistry to BPA and present similar risks.12

In one comprehensive review of the literature,13 a Colorado researcher found that 75 of 91 studies pointed to a link between BPA and human health. These had to do with negative effects on perinatal and childhood health as well as that of adults.

CLARITY May Be Clouding the Issue

The FDA co-led a multimillion-dollar project called Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity, or CLARITY. Launched in 2012, the project ostensibly was to link data from independent researchers with toxicological information held by the government.

It took aim at settling the dispute between independent scientists and the government over how BPA affects human health. EHN describes the argument between the two camps as:14

“Academics with modern methods and a sophisticated understanding of human physiology versus government and industry scientists who lean on decades-old established science in their evaluation of industrial chemicals.”

Despite all the evidence and a long list of manufacturing chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, the FDA still appears reluctant to change its testing methodology, clinging to the idea that BPA poses no health risk, and ignoring the mounting peer-reviewed studies showing the opposite.

The truth is FDA’s stance on BPA ignores the results of their own scientific committee established in 1982, which warned of the potential that low concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals were binding to hormone receptors, and that future technology could reveal interference in the endocrine system would have a significant effect on human health.

The CLARITY project was a collaborative effort among the FDA and 14 participating academic scientists. It’s a document that was to be used to decide on any changes that might occur to U.S. regulations on BPA.

But when a draft report from the results was issued in February 2018, the FDA jumped the gun with a public statement saying BPA is still safe to use — a claim that didn’t go down well with the other collaborators, who were busy putting together an independent review of the data.

Cheryl Rosenfeld, University of Missouri biologist and a CLARITY investigator told EHN, “Many of us are not happy with the FDA.”

Reduce Your Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

BPA is just one toxic endocrine-disrupting chemical found in food packaging and leaching from plastics into your food. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, you may reduce your BPA exposure and potentially the health risks by considering these suggestions:

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.

Never use plastic in a microwave as it increases the release of chemicals in the 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.

Buy products in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans.

Check your home's tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.

Teach your children not to drink water from the garden hose to avoid plastic chemicals.

Be careful with cash register receipts. In stores you visit regularly, encourage the management to switch to BPA-free receipts.

Breastfeed your baby exclusively if possible, for at least the first year (to avoid endocrine-disrupting chemical 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, particularly items your child may be prone to suck or chew on.