Is BPA-free really a safer alternative?

BPA is a chemical used in the lining of some food and beverage packaging, in particular plastics and aluminium cans to protect food from contamination and extend shelf life. Manufacturers give you a clue as to the BPA content by the RIC, or Resin Identification Code. It is marked (typically on the bottom of a plastic container) in an arrowed triangle. The triangle is usually so small it’s very hard to read the number without a microscope. RICs 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are very unlikely to contain significant amounts of BPA, whereas 3 and 7 are the typical suspects.

The BPA story is quite frightening. In 2007, a consensus statement was released by an expert panel suggesting the average BPA levels in humans were above those proven to cause harm in laboratory animals.

Apart from concerns about the foetus, there are links between BPA and obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Poor brain development has also been linked to BPA, with claims of links to autism and ADHD, along with heightened sensitivity to drugs of abuse.

There are also claims regarding BPA’s links to a variety of cancers.

The xeno-oestrogens, Phthalates, BPA and other synthetic oestrogen mimickers bombard the female endocrine systems, breasts and ovaries from a very early age. High levels during pregnancy, along with using hard plastic bottles, which are constantly rewarmed, to feed young children, leech these toxins into the milk.

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This is a highly plausible argument as to why young girls are starting menstruation earlier and earlier.

So, since the concerns over BPA in plastics, aluminium cans and other commonly used household appliances have been raised by various experts and media commentators, with the increasing awareness in the general public, people are rushing for alternatives. You must then ask the question, are the suggested alternatives any safer?

The correct answer here appears to be probably not!

Two of the commonly used BPA alternatives are BPS and BHPF. The reality is that both of these chemical alternatives are still bisphenols and there is now increasing scientific evidence that these so called safer alternatives are still endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which have close to identical hormonal effects.

A recent study published in Nature Communications by a group of Chinese and Japanese researchers looked at the effects of BHPF in pregnant mice. This study showed very similar health issues seen with BPA.

The group then tested water bottles by filling them with hot water and then testing the water for BHPF levels. They found significant levels of BHPF in just under half of the samples tested, including three baby bottles.

They then collected blood samples from 100 random college students who reported drinking water from bottles and found significant levels of BHPF in seven out of 100 people tested.

Although there is no clear evidence of any health detriments from BHPF exposure, this and previous research I have reported on BPS, raise concerns about the ubiquitous use of plastics to store food and fluid in modern society, regardless of the claims on the bottle, such as BPA free. If anyone opens their fridge, it is difficult to find something that is not stored in plastic.

Cardiovascular disease and cancer make up around 80% of the causes of death and disability in our society and although we do not commonly associate our increasing exposure to many different forms of plastic and these diseases, this is something that health authorities need to seriously consider. Although it appears the greatest danger comes from reusing and reheating plastic containers, which is commonly done with baby bottles, it still comes back to the question I ask quite commonly,

What is the same dose of poison?

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