Is BPA Harmless? Will the Science be Settled in 2018?
If I asked you this question…..
What do you know about BPA is?
Would you know the answer?
Before getting down to the nitty gritty details of the research, I would have answered with something along the lines of…..
"Isn't that the stuff that used to be in baby's bottles but they took it out?"
That knowledge was just information from headline reading throughout the years and also noticing a lot of product marketing claiming that their products were safer because they were BPA free. And I went along, buying everything BPA free without really knowing exactly why.
BPA has been for buzz word in plastic for over two decades. There has been much controversy surrounding its safety and possible adverse effects on human beings. Some countries have banned the use of BPA containing products, while other countries, such as Australia, have considered it to be safe to humans.
So what is the low down?
What Is BPA?
The boring definition is as follows…….
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical (monomer) produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.
But, BPA’s story didn’t begin with the manufacture of plastic. BPA was first developed in 1891 for use as a potential synthetic oestrogen. In 1953 two scientists discovered, almost on the same day, that this monomer could be used to form polycarbonate (PC) resin. The exciting discovery that was made on this day saw the birth of a chemical compound that hardened and consequently, couldn’t be broken.
Fast forward to the future and they had a substance that could tolerate manipulation without breaking. Seems too good to be true…..
The accidental discovery that lead to panic.
In the early 1990’s there was an accidental but alarming discovery made by a team of scientists. The head of this team was Dr David Feldman, a professor of medicine with specialist training in endocrinology (the study of hormones). The team were initially tasked to study whether estrogen evolved from yeast but when they looked further realised that they had accidentally found a molecule that was leaching out of plastic, this molecule looked and behaved exactly like estrogen. Concerned, and knowing BPA’s estrogenic hormone like properties, Dr Feldman theorised that BPA may have the potential to be harmful to humans.
Sounding the Alarm on BPA
Dr Feldman and his team wanted to let governmental authorities and the manufacturers know what they had found. The problem was that the manufacturers could not find BPA upon testing in their lab, the reason being, their instruments could only test for levels more than what were ‘acceptable’ (25-50 ppb). Assumingly, the FDA insisted that any amount under this was considered ‘safe’. Dr Feldman had the capability to test at lower levels and found that they were, in fact, seeing biological estrogenic effects at 5-10 ppb, much lower levels than the recommended ‘safe’ level.
Dr Feldman had proven that BPA had an effect on the body at much lower levels than were deemed safe by the FDA. It is to ponder what the health effects may be on a diverse population that is exposed to BPA on a daily basis.
It seems that this debate on whether BPA is safe still rages on decades later. There are hundreds of clinical studies to be found on the topic, but yet, there seems to be no clear answer to the question.
Will the Science be Settled in 2018?
As of 2018, research and debates are still ongoing.
Back in 2008 The National Toxicology Program (a branch off the FDA) evaluated mountains of available scientific literature regarding the possibility that BPA was, in fact, harming the health of human beings. The National Toxicology Program reported that there was some cause for concern in certain systems of the body, such as the brain. Despite the findings from the National Toxicology Program, the FDA remained firm on its stance that BPA is safe but they support the voluntary removal in consumer products such as baby bottles, food containers and packaging.
Fast forward to the future, 2018.
This may be the year that we find the answers to this highly debated and confusing issue.
The CLARITY_BPA CORE STUDY is a huge research operation designed by The National Toxicology Program (NTP), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), an the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The study aims to test the effects of BPA on human health in order to make further decisions of its fate as a chemical in the manufacture of plastic.
Many grants were given to scientists from all over that had a particular interest or skill in a certain area. The studies were conducted under strict guidelines using animal models. The particular aim of the study was to look at perinatal (in utero) effects as well as long term exposure, these critical areas of research have been lacking in previous studies.
The preliminary report of CLARITY_BPA is in.....
Some tentative results of the report have been published so far. The paper needs to be peer reviewed which mean the final paper will not be available until August 2018. Whilst awaiting this final report, let’s take a look at the studies and conclusions that have been made available to the public.
CLARITY_BPA First draft report. Individual Scientist Reports/Findings
The scientists looks at the effects on the amygdala transcriptome, and whether exposure to BPA affects neurodevelopment. Analysis of the transcriptomes are used to understand the molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways controlling early embryonic development.
The study demonstrated that the prenatal BPA exposure can disrupt the neonate amygdala at dose BELOW the FDA’s ‘No Observed Adverse Effect Level” (NOAEL).
The results were sex specific, affecting the female subjects. The authors also provide additional evidence that developmental BPA exposure can interfere with oestrogen, oxytocin and vasopressin signalling pathways.
Although these are preliminary findings, they are quite concerning especially regarding the fact that these permanent changes are happening in utero and below the levels already established as ‘safe’ by the FDA.
Memory and Awareness
The Barnes Maze tool was used in this study to try and determine whether exposure to BPA in utero affected spatial learning and memory in the test group.
Spatial memory describes the part of the memory responsible for recording information about one’s environment and orientation.
The mice in the test group demonstrated prolonged latency in the Maze compared to the control group. The authors put forward the results suggesting that developmental exposure to BPA in utero may disrupt spatial memory and learning.
The results were found with the female mice only.
Ovarian Follicle Numbers and Sex Steroids
Although there have been studies done on the relationship between BPA exposure and ovarian follicle number, there were shortcomings in those studies that prompted the need for further testing.
In the past the studies have used mainly short term exposure, small study groups and no data linked to chronic exposure.
In this study the mice were subjected to different dose and for different periods of time to attempt to reflect the outcomes of chronic exposure to BPA.
Data from the study indicated that exposure to BPA at some doses and time points affects ovarian follicle numbers and also sex steroid levels.
There have been numerous studies done suggesting that BPA exposure might cause adverse cardiovascular anomalies.
The authors for this study found that the test mice, when compared to the control group, had a marked decrease in collagen within the heart at the chronic dose range. This was found to be sex specific to the female rats. As well as the increased collagen, it was also found that the female had significantly increased cardiomyopathy compared to the control group.
Myocardial degeneration was observed with both male and female test subjects, compared to the control group.
In light of these new findings, combined with past studies and historical uses of BPA, there seems to be a cause for concern regarding health.
Despite mountains of studies showing links to BPA and negative health effects, there has been a somewhat casual approach to health monitoring from government bodies especially in Australia. So far the CLARITY_BPA CORE study is showing data that correlates with previous finding on BPA in regards to a huge variety of negative health effects from neonatal development through to cardiovascular damage.
Unfortunately BPA is a ubiquitous substance in our environment and to avoid exposure to this substance would prove impossible. Many health experts have expressed concerns that BPA may be affecting the health of the population. The CLARITY study is a landmark study that will hopefully push for stringent changes in manufacturing and, in turn, reducing human exposure to BPA
Heidi Dahlenburg is a Registered Nurse and Naturopathic Clinician with 19 years in Professional Health Care. With a passion for preventative health, Heidi is continually immersed in studying and keeping up to date with the latest research on important health matter. Spending 13 years in the hospital system pushed Heidi to begin speaking and writing on the topic of preventative health, patient education and integrative healthcare.
Always seek the advice of you doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.