BPA and Your Health: Should You Worry?

BPA and Your Health: Should You Worry?

Bisphenol A—the banned-from-baby-bottles chemical found in food can linings, some plastic containers, paper receipts and in the bodies of 95 percent of adults and kids in North America—is in the news again. This time, just as the US Food and Drug Administration declared that BPA levels in food were safe, an important new study says the chemical can boost blood pressure.

That doesn’t mean you should panic. Here’s what to know, and do, about BPA.

A growing stack of human studies highlights associations between BPA exposure and risk for fertility problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver and kidney problems, obesity and inflammation. These studies can’t conclude that BPA causes these problems. But one study from Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea draws a more direct connection. When volunteers drank two servings of soymilk from cans lined with a BPA-containing epoxy, their blood pressure increased an average of five points. BP didn’t go up when volunteers drank soymilk from glass bottles.

At the heart of the BPA controversy: A roiling scientific debate over whether our exposure levels are safe . . . or too high. We’ll know more when a major, government-funded study ends in a few years. For now, these five tips can help you sidestep BPA.

Tip #1: Eat fresh. Packaged food is the biggest source of BPA exposure for most people. Skip foods sold in plastic containers that have the number 3 or 7 printed in the triangular recycling symbol on the bottom of the package. Some of these may contain BPA, says the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH.

It makes a difference. In one study, people who had canned soup every day for five days had urine levels of BPA 1,000-fold higher than those who ate soup made from fresh ingredients. In another, families that ate fresh foods (they didn’t eat out, stopped microwaving in plastic and didn’t munch canned foods or edibles from containers containing BPA) for three days reduced levels of BPA in their urine by 66 percent.

Go for more veggies and less meat. According to the European Food Safety Authority (the European Union equivalent of the US FDA), meat is also a source of BPA—perhaps through contact with plastic in packaging or during processing.

Tip #2: Skip canned drinks. One reason to think twice before you pop the top: BPA is in the epoxy linings of drink cans, too. The other reasons: Sugar-sweetened sips from cans are like liquid candy—you don’t need the empty calories or the downsides for your blood sugar and heart health anyway. 

Tip #3: Store and reheat like this: Use stainless steel, glass or ceramic containers to store food, rather than plastic. (Look for BPA-free lids, too.) Microwave in glass containers rather than plastic.

Tip #4: Say “yes” to email receipts, no thanks to paper. We love the fact that more and more stores send email receipts for in-person purchases. They’re keeping one widespread source of BPA—thermal paper—out of your hands. Punch the “no” button when ATMs and gas pumps ask if you’d like a receipt, use electronic ticketing for concerts and travel, and ask clerks to toss cash-register receipts you don’t need. If you handle receipts on the job, wear gloves and before touching any food after handling receipts—with or without gloves—wash your hands with soap and water.

Tip #5: Remember, hand sanitizer and receipts don’t mix. In a University of Missouri study, people who cleaned their hands with hand sanitizer, then touched a cash register receipt were exposed to higher levels of BPA than those who didn’t use the sanitizer. And those who munched greasy French fries also had higher BPA exposure if they used sanitizer first.

Researchers say some hand sanitizers contain penetration enhancers that increase the product’s ability to get into the uppermost layer of the skin – it’s these compounds that seem to increase absorption of BPA. Hand lotions and sunscreens may have penetration enhancers, too.

Medically reviewed in April 2018.

BPS for BPA in Plastic: Is It Safer?
BPS for BPA in Plastic: Is It Safer?
As marketing slogans like "BPA Free!" have started popping up on various products, the lyrics from The Who song Substitute keep coming to mind: "Subst...
Read More
How common is bisphenol A (BPA) in food?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Over 90% of all canned goods in the United States have BPA. If the label doesn’t read “BPA-free,...
More Answers
What are the risks of bisphenol A (BPA)?
Environmental Working Group (EWG)Environmental Working Group (EWG)
Some may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but do you really want a chemical use...
More Answers
Is BPA-Free Plastic Really Safer?
Is BPA-Free Plastic Really Safer?