Migraines plague 25 percent of women, a rate that's three times higher than men's. And scientists believe those women are more likely to suffer from severe headaches because migraines are influenced by estrogen levels. The chemical BPA acts like estrogen in the body, which is why the researchers in this newest study singled it out. And like people, mice can suffer from migraines, and they often exhibit the same behaviors when one hits—avoiding light and sounds and not exhibiting routine behaviors.
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The study's authors exposed one group of migraine-suffering mice to BPA but kept a second group unexposed, and while both groups eventually developed headaches, their BPA exposure exacerbated symptoms in the exposed mice. The researchers also looked at the animals' estrogen receptors and noticed that they were more frequently activated in the BPA-exposed mice. It doesn't appear that BPA is causing migraines, the researchers write, but that it is making the headaches worse.
"A clinical trial to decrease BPA exposure and levels in migraine sufferers may reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and may increase the quality of life for migraine sufferers," says the study's lead author Lydia Vermeer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
BPA is one of the most widely used industrial chemicals in the world, with 8 billion pounds produced every year. There's no detailed listing of where all those vats of BPA are going, but it's well known that your greatest exposure to the chemical is through diet. So…
• Avoid canned foods. Some food manufacturers are switching to BPA alternatives, but emerging research suggests that the compounds they're using are just as estrogenic as BPA.
• NEVER microwave your food in plastic. BPA is used to make plastics clear and translucent and is found in plastic containers marked with a #7. But it's also an additive in "microwave-safe" ovenware, some types of polystyrene (marked with a #6), and polyester resins, which are sometimes used to make plastic food containers. It leaches out of these containers when they're exposed to heat.
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Other important ways to avoid BPA include:
• Getting a second opinion on that filling. BPA-based composites are a common material in dental fillings, and dentists are recommending an increasing number of fillings, thanks to increasingly sensitive dental X-ray equipment that can detect tiny "microcavities." Microcavities don't always develop into cavities, according to the Texas A&M Health Science Center, yet some dentists fill them anyway, exposing patients to toxic dental materials unnecessarily.
• Avoiding thermal receipts. BPA is used as a thermal coating on the paper used for common cash-register receipts, such as the kind you get from ATMs and gas pumps. Decline those whenever you can, since studies have shown that your skin can absorb BPA from handling the paper, and ask for email or text-message receipts whenever those are an option.