2011-03-30 "Study: Packaged food raises levels of bisphenol A" by Victoria Colliver from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Forgoing packaged foods such as canned soups and vegetables could dramatically lower levels of a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been linked to myriad health problems, including birth defects, autism and reproductive issues, according to a study released today.
In the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, five Bay Area families were asked to eliminate packaged foods from their diets and store food only in glass or stainless steel containers. After only three days, levels of the chemical bisphenol A in the subjects' urine dropped by more than 60 percent, researchers found.
Researchers were surprised by the dramatic drop in levels of the chemical after such a short change in diet, even though it was known that bisphenol A, also known as BPA, does not stay in the body for long.
"We're hoping these very remarkable results will help us in our outreach and education to people to show them how easily changes can be made in their personal habits that may diminish significant exposure to BPA," said Janet Gray, an author of the report and science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund, a San Francisco advocacy group and partner in the study.
Researchers focused on just five families - 10 adults and 10 children - because they considered the study a pilot project to test the methodology for future research, Gray said. They limited the test period to three days because BPA metabolizes rapidly.
After testing the family members' BPA level in urine samples, researchers provided the families with the three days of organic meals and snacks prepared by a caterer and delivered to their homes last year. Families were instructed to follow very strict protocols if they needed to diverge from the prepared foods for any reason.
The level of BPA found in the family members dropped from an average of 3.7 nanograms per milliliter of urine, which is on par with the national average found in other research, to 1.2 nanograms per milliliter.
Levels of another chemical, DEHP, or bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, which is found in some plastic food packaging and is also linked to reproductive and other health issues, dropped by more than 50 percent. Average BPA levels returned to previous levels after they returned to their normal diets.
Laurlund is a stay-at-home mom, and her family doesn't eat many prepared foods, so she said she was surprised to learn her family's base BPA levels actually exceeded the national average. The final results spurred her to remove canned foods from her home and replace them with alternatives, such as those packaged in glass or Tetra Pak containers.
"Because it has such a short life in your body, anyone can make these changes," she said. "Those changes are so easy to make, and it's going to affect your body immediately."
Representatives from the grocery and chemical industries say trace BPA levels found in humans are safe.
"We agree with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that foods packaged in cans with epoxy linings that utilize BPA are safe, and that there is no need for consumers to change their consumption habits," the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement.
Yet there is plenty of debate over whether the government-sanctioned BPA levels are, in fact, safe for humans.
Connie Engel, program coordinator for the Breast Cancer Fund and one of the study's authors, said recent lab studies have found adverse health effects at BPA levels under the government threshold.
Engel suggested glass and stainless steel as alternatives. She noted that some BPA alternatives have not been fully tested.
More than 20 states, including California, are considering legislation to curb BPA exposure. So far, the efforts in this state and nationwide have been largely unsuccessful.
-- Opt for foods packaged in alternatives such as Tetra Pak cartons.
-- Avoid canned foods with the highest BPA concentrations: coconut milk, soup, meat.
-- Frozen fruits or vegetables may be a convenient alternative.
-- Do not microwave food in plastic containers.