5 Things You Should Know About BPA

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Studies from the last few years have reported that more than 90 percent of Americans have BPA in their systems. It’s hard to avoid: We get most of it by eating food that has been in containers made with BPA. It’s also apparently possible to pick up BPA through air, dust, and water.

Don’t panic. Instead, take a minute to educate yourself about BPA, the dangers of it, and what you can do to protect yourself.

1. BPA is a chemical that was originally used to preserve food.

Short for bisphenol A, BPA is a chemical that’s been used in our plastics — like food containers and water bottles — and to line our canned goods for the last 50 years or so. Originally, it was meant to keep food from spoiling and to harden plastics.

2. BPA is linked to some bad stuff.

The reason everyone has been paying attention to BPA during these last 10 years is because it’s been found to produce small amounts of estrogen in the body, which has been proven to have an impact on our endocrine systems, potentially messing with our growth, metabolism, sleep, reproduction — you know, just a few important things. It’s also been linked to infertility, cancers, and behavioral issues.

3. But more studies are needed.

In 2008, the FDA stated that the amounts of BPA ingested from food pose no health risks. Good news, right? Well, since then the FDA has reviewed studies and claimed that there is some concern about BPA’s effect on the brain and reproductive system, but it hasn’t changed its official regulatory standards on the chemical as the research continues.

Heated debates regarding all the research on BPA stem from the fact that the chemical industry feels that BPA has been approved for foods, and health risks haven’t actually been documented. Some scientists feel that the data that has been tested has been inconclusive, while other researchers and doctors argue that just because the effects are difficult to document doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There is still tons of research being poured into the subject, but the main thing we know is that we need more research.

4. Pregnant women & babies should avoid it.

While there is controversy over the studies that have been conducted thus far, what people do agree on is that BPA seems to be most harmful in babies, children, and pregnant women. So it’s smart to make sure you know what your cans and plastics are made of if you have kids in the house, or are soon planning to. In fact, the FDA has already prohibited the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups to make sure that the most at-risk for exposure — the youngest kids — are safer.

5. Not all plastic has BPA.

Plastics marked with a #1, 2, 4, or 5 don’t contain BPA and may be better choices, according to the Environmental Working Group. (No matter what type of plastic you’re using, don’t microwave food or drinks in plastic containers — even if they claim to be microwave-safe, as heat can break down plastics and release chemicals into your food and drink. And stop using plastics that become scratched.) Even better than those plastics deemed safe? Glass and ceramic.

More on BPA

Have you been avoiding plastic because of BPA concerns?