Chemical in Plastics May Be Especially Harmful to Women

Study: BPA, a chemical used in some plastics and inside metal cans, causes inflammation and cell damage in older women.

July 22, 2009

A metal water bottle may be a healthier choice than plastic for women.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Many concerned parents of young children feel more like chemists these days, trying to analyze and avoid chemicals of concern in everything from baby bottles and formula to toys and food. One chemical that’s gotten a lot of attention lately is bisphenol A, or BPA; at least one U.S. state has banned its use in infant bottles and food containers. But a new study suggests it’s unhelathy for adult women, too, not just babies.

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THE DETAILS: Researchers looked at BPA levels in 259 men, 92 premenopausal women, and 134 postmenopausal women. They found that although all three groups had similar amounts of BPA in their systems, only in the postmenopausal women was there an association between BPA—which acts like estrogen in the body—and markers of oxidative stress and inflammation. Inflammation is linked to all sorts of chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s; oxidative stress is linked to aging and cancer. The study was published in the August edition of the journal Environmental Research.

WHAT IT MEANS: This study is the first to look at BPA and its inflammation and oxidative stress–causing properties in humans. Late last year, researchers with the National Toxicology Program weighed the risks of the controversial chemical used in polycarbonate (No. 7) and polyvinyl chloride (No. 3) plastics, as well as epoxy resins often used in canned food and drinks, and found it does raise some concern when fetuses, infants, and young children are exposed to the chemical. Specifically, the researchers found it could cause developmental changes in the prostate gland and brain, and affect sexual development. While babies and children are often exposed through baby bottles and canned baby formula, the chemical is found in many adult products, too, and this research adds to the evidence that it should be avoided.

Here’s how adults can keep BPA and its inflammation effects out of their system:

• Reconsider cans. Some food companies use BPA to line their cans; so if you’re trying to go BPA free, minimizing your use of canned food bears consideration. Buy fresh whenever you can; choose altnernative packaging like glass when it’s available; contact the makers of your favorite canned food to find out if their cans contain BPA. This includes beverages, too: Coca-Cola, which uses BPA in the linings of its soda cans, was criticized recently after memos describing a plan to promote BPA as safe were uncovered earlier this summer. (Pepsi has told Rodale.com it has never used BPA in its products, by the way; but we recommend you keep your soda drinking to a minimum to avoid empty calories and weight gain.) At the very least, make sure your canned food doesn’t get exposed to heat, which could promote leaching of the chemicals.

• Choose your water bottle wisely. Instead of choosing those hard, No. 7 plastic water bottles, opt for a stainless steel version, such as a Klean Kanteen. Avoid #7 plastic to hold any food or drink, and never heat food in a plastic container, in order to avoid BPA and other chemicals.

• Carry a mug. If you buy coffee on the go, take your own stainless steel mug for safer sipping. Paper cups made from recycled material may contain BPA, while styrofoam cups can release unhealthy chemicals of their own.

• Eat to fight inflammation. Avoid downing too many inflammation-causing omega-6 fats, and fit enough cooling omega-3s into your diet. Cut back on margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil. Choose sardines or wild-caught Alaskan salmon for an omega-3 fix, or look for fish oil supplements in triglyceride form (the type that doesn’t cause fish burps).