Why You Don’t Need to Fear BPA

Imagine if an evil company added toxic chemicals to your water.

Imagine if they had been adding this chemical to your canned food, your food containers, your plumbing, and even your baby bottles for years.

BPA Can

BPA has been blamed for cancer, heart disease, erectile dysfunction, cognitive disorders, infertility, and obesity. This article shows you whether or not these fears are supported by strong evidence.

Imagine if your government and regulatory agencies had ignored this problem because they were in cahoots with the chemical industries.

Now that’s a news story.

That’s the story of BPA. Or at least that’s how the story of BPA has largely been portrayed in the media.

Whistle-blowers claim that regulatory agencies are in the pocket of big industry. They claim that governments are resting on their laurels, refusing to take action on obvious research showing BPA is an omnipresent menace to your health.

Big chemical companies are supposedly duping innocent consumers like you by knowingly tainting household products with a toxic, hormone disrupting, cancer-causing synthetic compound called BPA.

Many companies have removed BPA from their products, and the FDA and Health Canada have banned BPA from plastic baby bottles, which only fuels the hysteria. This is despite the fact that both agencies have issued reports stating BPA is safe (here and here), and the fact that companies had already removed BPA from these products before the ban due to consumer demand.

You’re a rational, skeptical, Imprüvr who isn’t easily swayed by media uproar, yet it’s hard not to take notice when every plastic container now brags about being BPA-free.

In this article, you’ll learn what the evidence really says about BPA, and if this fantastic conspiracy is really supported by fantastic evidence (which it would need to be if it were true).

What the Evidence Says About BPA and Your Health

Let’s cut to the chase. There have been over 7,000 studies on BPA since 1960.

To keep things simple, we’re going to focus on the best review on this topic to date, published in 2011.1 It’s gotten almost no coverage, despite being the most comprehensive paper on the safety of BPA. It’s also freely available for your reading pleasure.

The study is titled “Critical evaluation of key evidence on the human health hazards of exposure to bisphenol A,” and was published by the German Society of Toxicology in the Journal of Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

The researchers examined almost every relevant study and previous review on BPA since the early eighties. Here’s what they concluded.

Why BPA Isn’t Bad for You

Early animal studies found that when mice, rats, and dogs were fed BPA, they sometimes developed low organ weights, impaired hormonal function, and infertility. These effects sometimes occurred at doses of BPA that you might be exposed to in daily living.

However, most of the studies suffered from severe methodological issues:

  • Small sample size.
  • Inadequate randomization (They often used animals from the same litter, which is a no-no).
  • Lack of adherence to proper testing standards.
  • Poor reporting of methods (Sometimes they didn’t even report the number of animals tested).
  • Poor or nonexistent statistical analysis.

These studies were also exploratory, which means the researchers were giving the animals large doses of BPA to cause health problems. This way, they would know what to look for in larger, more standardized studies designed to determine what safe levels of BPA exposure might be for humans.

More recent, higher quality animal studies have found that doses of BPA below the safe upper limit (the tolerable daily intake, or “TDI”) do not cause any negative health effects. In one recent study, doses of over 40, 400, and 4,000 times the estimated exposure in humans caused no health problems in mice.2,3

Most People Don’t Consume Dangerous Levels of BPA

To exceed the tolerable daily intake (TDI), you would need to consume 10,000 times more BPA than most people ingest in a day.

Most adults consume around 0.026 µg (micrograms) per kilogram of bodyweight per day (and some new evidence4 indicates this level is declining). The TDI is 50 µg/kg/day.

Like every other substance you put in your body, the dose makes the poison. When it comes to BPA, most people don't consume anywhere close to a harmful dose.

Like every other substance you put in your body, the dose makes the poison. When it comes to BPA, most people don’t consume anywhere close to a harmful dose.

0.026/50 = 0.000052.

In other words, you’re probably ingesting about 52,000% less BPA than the minimum amount considered to be potentially dangerous.

If you weigh 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds, you would need to eat about 513 pounds of canned soup to exceed the TDI. (Table 6 of this review gives a great overview of the amount of BPA in various foods).5

Urine and blood tests have also shown that most people have extremely low levels of BPA. In most cases, the levels are almost the same as the absolute minimum limit of detection of the study methods (which means they’re really, really low).

BPA is Rapidly Detoxified by Your Body

When humans consume BPA — in controlled or free-living conditions — virtually all of it is rendered chemically inactive by the liver. After BPA has been absorbed and processed by the liver, the amount left in the blood is extremely small, and only about 0.2% is still active. When monkeys are fed BPA, about 70% of it is inactivated five minutes later.

Based on how fast it appears in the urine, researchers estimate that BPA stays in the body for at most 1-2 hours. There is also some evidence to suggest that it may be much shorter than that.

Most of the studies that suggest BPA may be dangerous injected animals with BPA. This bypasses their detoxification pathways, which may amplify the negative effects. Several lines of evidence also suggest that mice and rats may be more sensitive to BPA than humans.

Even Pregnant Women, Babies, and Old People are Safe

There is no evidence that pregnant mothers or their fetuses are more susceptible to the effects of BPA. Virtually no BPA reaches the fetus, and the small amount that does is almost completely inactivated.

The maximum estimated amount of BPA that’s leached out of plastic baby bottles  is still well below the safe upper limit.

There is also no evidence that old people are less able to detoxify BPA.

However, not everyone is off the hook.

Why Sick Babies and Factory Workers May Need to Worry About BPA

If you have a baby in an intensive care unit (ICU), they may be exposed to BPA levels above the safe upper limit.

One study found that newborn babies who received intravenous injections in the ICU consumed about twice the maximum recommended safe intake of BPA. The bags and medical tubing used to infuse the I.V. fluid are lined with BPA, and it’s also used in some other medical devices.

However, there’s little reason to believe BPA harmed these kids. The tolerable daily intake, or TDI, is the safe upper limit that you could theoretically consume for your entire life. The babies weren’t in the ICU for long, which means they only consumed excessive BPA levels for a few days — not their entire lives.

In this case, you would also have to weigh the small risks from BPA exposure against the larger risks of whatever put them in the ICU.

One study also found that industrial paint workers may exceed the upper safe level of BPA, though other studies have not found this to be the case. It’s still not clear what steps could reduce their risk, but it seems likely that more protective clothing and/or respirators may help.

BPA Is Probably Not Dangerous, but Poor Reporting Is

BPA is hot news.

CBS, Yahoo! News, Consumer Reports, Time Magazine, The New York TimesEnvironmental Health News and others have been fast to report on studies that seem to prove BPA is dangerous.

Everything you put in your body has some potential to be harmful. At present, however, the vast majority of evidence indicates that BPA is not harmful, or even biologically relevant to any significant degree.

BPA is rapidly converted to a harmless, inactive form minutes after entering your body. It’s also eliminated in your urine after about 1-2 hours. Most people would need to consume thousands of times more BPA than they already do to exceed the safe upper limits.

It’s important to do everything you can to stay healthy.

It’s important to stay informed.

It’s important to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals that could give you cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, or a second head.

Luckily, BPA doesn’t do any of those things.

It looks like your plastic water bottle is probably not going to give you man boobs.

Disclosures: None.

Did you enjoy this article? Help make your friends more awesome by sharing it on Twitter by clicking here. 

References

1. Hengstler JG, Foth H, Gebel T, et al. Critical evaluation of key evidence on the human health hazards of exposure to bisphenol A. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2011;41(4):263–291. doi:10.3109/10408444.2011.558487. Abstract: http://pmid.us/21438738 | Full Text: http://goo.gl/AlSti

2. Ryan BC, Hotchkiss AK, Crofton KM, et al. In utero and lactational exposure to bisphenol A, in contrast to ethinyl estradiol, does not alter sexually dimorphic behavior, puberty, fertility, and anatomy of female LE rats. Toxicol Sci. 2010;114(1):133–148. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp266. Abstract: http://pmid.us/19864446 | Full Text: http://goo.gl/C86Ah 

3. Sharpe RM. Is it time to end concerns over the estrogenic effects of bisphenol A? Toxicol Sci. 2010;114(1):1–4. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfp299. Abstract: http://pmid.us/20147444 | Full Text: http://goo.gl/Ki1VW 

4. Wells EM, Jackson LW, Koontz MB. Decline in urinary bisphenol a concentrations in the United States. Epidemiology. 2013;24(1):167–168. Abstract: http://pmid.us/23232617 | Full Text: NA

5. Chapin RE, Adams J, Boekelheide K, et al. NTP-CERHR expert panel report on the reproductive and developmental toxicity of bisphenol A. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol. 2008;83(3):157–395. doi:10.1002/bdrb.20147. Abstract: http://pmid.us/18613034 | Full Text: http://goo.gl/bRzkN

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Armi,

    Thanks for writing this article. I’ve recently accepted a job as a cashier and wanted to find conclusive evidence on BPA, since thermal register receipts are “laced” with them… so I wanted to know if I should worry. Would you say the level of BPA encountered by a typical cashier should be something to be concerned about?

    I’m sick of all the fear-mongering and scare-tactics used in the media and just want the straight facts… there are plenty of chemicals out there that are processed by our bodies and pass through naturally through excretion, so I’ve always been skeptical about the “BPA gets stored away in your fat cells and endocrine system” argument. If that was the case, wouldn’t we all be dead by now from all the times we’ve encountered airborne pollutants in daily urban living? Do those settle in our bodily cells and contribute to cancer/autoimmune diseases as well? Does that mean I should never leave my house for fear of coming in contact with veritable vichyssoise of chemicals every time I’m out and about?

    I just want some answers, not another “inconclusive” study. Thanks again for your insight into the whole BPA-laden circus!

    Terry

    • says

      Hey Terry, thanks so much for your comment — it made my day.

      Thermal receipts and some labels are high in BPA, but there’s little evidence it’s a concern — even if you’re working at a register. The absorption of BPA through the skin is very low, around 10% at most (based on some in vitro studies, which means it’s probably lower in real life).

      As long as you aren’t licking your fingers or the receipts, you’re probably fine.

      Thanks for your candid statement about the alarmism surrounding BPA and other “toxins.” There are definitely higher levels of pollutants than their used to be, and only breathing air next to a highway would probably not be a great plan. However, there’s little evidence it’s a significant issue for most people living normal lives.

      It’s a matter of priorities. Breathing supplemental oxygen your entire life would probably keep most pollutants out of your lungs, but the benefits would probably minimal or non-existant, and life would suck.

      Congrats on the new job, and thanks for thinking skeptically,

      - Armi

      • says

        Thanks for your detailed reply, Armi. I most certainly am not going to lick any receipts (although I see some of my older coworkers licking their fingers and then touching them! I should probably tell them not to, huh?), and am decidedly less paranoid about it when I first posted that comment.

        It’s just weird whenever I tell anyone about it– they all think I’m a little nuts as soon as I mention anything of the sort. Ignorance is bliss, no? But informed ignorance is probably slightly better. At least you know what you’re being ignorant about vs. not knowing at all.

        We have to live, after all. And living in fear of a few chemicals is not a way to go about anything.

        • says

          Sure thing Terry. If you were licking receipts, you’d probably have bigger issues anyway :)

          Licking your hands/fingers after touching anything that’s been handled by a bunch of other people is generally not a great plan, but I wouldn’t worry about telling people not to. It’s easy to become “that guy” who always hands out advice, ya know?

          If people say you’re nuts when you say BPA isn’t dangerous, ask them “why?” Keep asking until they’re forced to admit they don’t have any credible scientific evidence, which they don’t.

          I would also say that informed ignorance is an oxymoron. Often, information that helps us relax and worry less is as important, if not more so, than info that encourages us to take action (e.g. exercising regularly).

  2. Tony says

    This is certainly relieving to read, amidst all the scare-mongering. For years, I was worried about the mercury in silver fillings before I convinced myself to calm down. Now, there are supposedly carcinogenic chemicals and BPA in white dental fillings. It’s scary to think there is something in your mouth that could be hurting you. On the other hand, plenty of people get these fillings and few people are developing serious illnesses. Compare this to the large percentage of the relatively few (compared to the general population) of people who’ve handled asbestos who have become sick. Maybe this BPA thing is baloney after all. Nevertheless, I hate my life being made miserable by all this scare-mongering BS.

    What have you heard about (and what is your opinion) on this lesser discussed (as of now) matter regarding dental fillings?

    • says

      Hi Tony, thanks for commenting.

      I agree with you as well — life is much easier without the hype and fear mongering.

      I honestly haven’t done enough research on whether or not mercury fillings are dangerous. I’ll have to add it to my to-do list. Do you have any articles or references you feel represent a cause for concern?

      Thanks again,

      - Armi

  3. Tony says

    Armi,

    I’m not too concerned about the mercury fillings controversy, although I was worried many years ago. People hear “mercury” and then assume that everything that’s wrong in their lives is due to their fillings. But there have been many reliable studies showing that it’s not likely that mercury in fillings cause any ill health. (It’s not possible to completely prove something safe, although enough evidence can be gathered to show something is not likely dangerous.)

    So when I heard that there is some BPA in the newer fillings, it bothered me. After all, everywhere you go, you hear about how lethal this stuff is. I’m glad to get at least one small corner of the internet that doesn’t ascribe to that.

    It would be nice if there were more and more studies done to put this to rest but it’s disconcerting when you see a news item about how dangerous it is to just touch receipts. It’s like these people are just coming up with new ways to terrify people and force us to live in a bubble for our own safety.

    Thanks for your website,
    Tony

    • says

      Thanks man, and thanks too for filling me in on fillings. :) I don’t have any, so it hasn’t really crossed my mind.

      Thank again Tony, and glad you like the site!

  4. Tony says

    Armi, I was doing some Googling on the point you made that the body quickly detoxifies BPA and came across this page.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647705/

    I wonder what your comment is on it. I’m specifically talking about section VI D, which is titled: “Controversy 4: Is BPA inactivated by conjugation in the digestive system? Are animal studies using other modes of exposure relevant?”
    From what I understand, it seems to say that the liver detoxifies BPA but then, in the intestine, it somehow retoxifies it. I’m not arrogant enough to say that I know more than a research scientist but I wonder if some people who don’t want this controversy to go away got scared when they were faced with the very substantial information: “The liver detoxifies BPA. Case closed!” and had to come up with something about retoxifying it.
    I’ve been reading some very laughable articles and blogs about BPA over the past few days. One guy went on to name about ten different maladies (from cancer to obesity) and blamed it all on BPA. Apparently there are some studies that claim BPA makes people fat. I’m not a scientist but I would venture to say that people eating twenty meals a week from canned products and TV dinners (that are loaded with fat, sugar, and salt) are getting fat because of their poor dietary habits and lack of exercise and not because of today’s bogeyman, which happens to be BPA. Also, I wonder why those people running around the track for hours a day and drinking water from plastic bottles aren’t getting obese. Maybe *I* should do a research study on this matter.
    However, as stupid as the blogs and articles might be, I don’t know what to make of these studies. Some studies show that BPA is harmless, detoxified, and not found at high levels. But then there’s a new study that shows otherwise. I would think, though, that if there was really such high levels of BPA in almost everyone, people would be dropping like flies. People are still getting sick, unfortunately, but I don’t know if there are more people ill today than before BPA was introduced. Who knows? It’s easy though to blame any and everything on the latest controversy in the hopes that enough people might make a connection, even though it’s a dubious one.

    Tony

    • says

      Hey Tony,

      You analysis is pretty spot on. At this point there’s still no evidence that the levels of BPA consumed by most people pose any health threat. The body of evidence at this point shows that BPA is not a health threat to the vast majority of people.

      I think you’re also correct about how other lifestyle factors (e.g. lack of exercise and excess calories) are a far greater problem, and are likely associated with more processed food intake.

  5. Jeff says

    At best, I think it would be wise to say that the scientific findings are conflicted on this point. It would interesting to know whether any of these studies were funded, either directly or indirectly, by industries that have a stake in BPA. Unfortunately, the influence of industry on science is often hard to uncover.

    Do you ever attempt to look behind studies, and follow the money trail that made them possible?

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/221205.php

    • says

      Hi Jeff, thanks for commenting.

      Scientific evidence virtually always has some nuances and discrepancies, but at this point there is no good evidence that consuming BPA in normal amounts will cause any negative health effects in most people. It’s been thoroughly tested and at this point there isn’t much controversy in the scientific community.

      I don’t “attempt” to look at the funding sources of studies — I do look at the funding sources whenever they’re available, and sometimes even when I have to do some more digging. Some of the studies on BPA were funded by industries, some weren’t, and the results were still consistent between the two. Keep in mind that studies also need to be evaluated on an individual basis for quality, and just because they received industry funding does not necessarily mean they are less credible.

      • Jeff says

        Well, as someone who lives in Japan, and has been working very hard for the last few months to track down a BPA-free brand – and failed – I’m quite happy to hear this. Our local grocery store only carries Chef’s Choice.

        By the way, I love your site. I originally discovered it by way of the Bulletproof Exec podcast, which I have been listening to daily at double speed for the last month. Somewhere around episode 35 you no longer appear in the show, so I Googled your name in hope of discovering the backstory, whereupon I stumbled upon this site. Was your reason for leaving the show ever published, or is it something you would rather not comment on?

        In any event, many thanks for your efforts.

        Cheers!

  6. tony says

    Jeff, you bring up a very good point regarding industries funding some research. That’s certainly something that needs to be taken into consideration. However, as Armie mentions, there is consistency between industry-funded studies and those not funded as such. Also, there is mention of there being an agenda on the part of some researchers who constantly find that BPA causes everything from brain damage to growing a sixth finger on your left hand. Namely, if they come out and find there is nothing wrong, funding and grants will dry up. However, if they can show that maybe there is something dangerous about BPA, the funding will continue. Notice that they never find anything definitive. There’s usually more studies that are needed to be done to prove that if you hit rats with enough BPA, they’ll probably get cancer. In this way, they can keep getting grant money and do more research on how dangerous BPA probably is.

    There was a study done by someone (I think his name is Teegaurden) and he found that BPA is detoxified in the body. Among his research, it was found that there is negligible amounts of BPA in people’s blood. Immediately, some people accused him of being a shill for the industries. Except that he was funded by the government to do his research.
    I have a water bottle that advertises itself as BPA-free. It’s a good product and I’ve never even noticed the BPA-free thing until just now. But what chemical, ingredient, material, element are they using to replace what BPA used to do? People are so afraid of BPA that they would buy products lined with arsenic. It’s funny but in five years, after more and more BPA-free products are being sold and BPA is dead and buried, don’t you think that whatever is used in these products will then be researched and studied and found to cause disease in people? Of course, it will. The media always needs a bogeyman to sell itself and to keep people scared.

    The way I see it, let’s say that the material used to line products was made from asbestos. Lots of people would be dropping dead. You wouldn’t need any studies to find this out. But instead, we have researchers finding “subtle” symptoms in people, which seems a convenient excuse to scare people without giving real hard evidence. You forgot where you parked your car? Well that might just be due to the BPA in your water bottle or the mercury in your fillings.

    But we live in a world where celebrities are encouraging parents not to give their children necessary vaccines because they might cause autism and people actually believe them, so the fact that this has so much traction doesn’t surprise me.

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