Is It Time to Choose Glass? The Obesity-Plastic Link
Are you familiar with the terms “bisphenols” or “hormone-disruptors?” If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will. Bisphenol A (BPA) has been implicated by research as having an impact on hormones in the body when repeated exposures occur. This environmental endocrine (hormone) disruptor has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, and was commonly found in plastics until recently. Bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol S (BPS) are now being used as swap-outs for BPA. But are these chemical substitutes any safer?
The impetus for studying commonly used ingredients in consumer products stemmed from the realization that escalating rates of worldwide obesity among children and adults could not only be attributed to genetics, family history, lifestyle, and aging. Researchers began to note evidence that certain chemicals, especially endocrine-disrupting chemicals, might also have a hand in encouraging the steady incline in obesity.
BPA is commonly found in packaging used for snack foods and drinks, canned foods, and plastic water bottles. The chemical is absorbed by the body through direct contact or by ingestion. Concern was raised by the medical community and the public health sector after research seemed to indicate that BPA increases the risk of many health issues including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The media pushed this information to the public and the result was a demand for change in the plastics industry.
Let’s be clear that in utero, growing babies can be exposed to these chemicals and the primary objects that infants and toddlers use include plastic bottles, sippy cups, and other plastic containers and toys. Once the research implicated BPA’s health risks, manufacturers of plastics began to use lower levels of BPA in products and they also began to offer “BPA-free” products, by replacing BPA with two new chemicals, BPF, and BPS.
Currently there isn’t a lot of science on the impact of BPS and BPF on humans. Researchers at the University of Iowa decided to study the impact of these two chemicals on human health. Their findings were published in the June 2017 journal, The Lancet Planetary Health.
The study’s findings were based on data that was originally gathered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its National Health and Nutrition Survey. The researchers reviewed data sets from more than 10,000 participants and then randomly chose 1,521 subjects (732 of them men). Collecting urine samples, the aim was to measure levels of BPA, BPF, and BPS and to then match them to body mass index measurements.
The researchers confirmed the BPA-obesity link, but did not, however, find a link between exposures to BPF and BPS “at current levels” and risk for obesity. Also of note was the fact that BPA concentrations were higher in the male subjects, and separately, also found to be higher in Caucasians versus non-white subjects.
It’s important to recognize that:
BPA has been in use for a number of years, so there is ample research to show that it was associated with general obesity and abdominal obesity. BPF and BPS are in far fewer products currently, worldwide and in the United States, compared to BPA.
This study on BPA, BPS, and BPF is just one small study on the chemicals. More research is needed to confirm the findings and to observe exposures over longer periods of time. It is likely that in the meantime, BPF and BPS use will increase despite the lack of research on their safety profile with regards to obesity, diabetes, and heart health.
BPS was found in all thermal receipt paper samples and 87 percent of bill samples from four countries: United States, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s also been identified in high concentrations in vegetables and seafood from China.
BPS and BPF are “structural analogues” to BPA, and in-vitro and in-vivo studies suggest that they may have hormone-disrupting properties similar to BPA. Current levels of exposure are much lower than BPA.
Is it time to switch back to glass?
A 2016 study in the journal Fertility and Sterility did raise a red flag about BPS and BPF. When we look at infant and child exposure to these chemicals, it’s important to note that plastic products pepper their lives on a daily basis, and exposures to plastic is literally an all-day affair for them.
Exposure to BPF and BPS would be very significant, if the swap-out for BPA continues. The safest solution would indeed be to switch to glass bottles, cups, and other products that lend themselves to glass, obviously, taking into account the danger of glass breaking. If you decide to use plasticware, look for BPA free, but do understand that BPS and BPF are the likely substitute for BPA.
It’s also important to remember that phthalates are another group of endocrine disruptors and can be found in fragrances and items that are fragranced, personal care products, soft plastics, insecticides, building materials, cars, clothing, toys, and electronics. Given the daily exposure to phthalates, BPA, and these newer chemical substitutes, it’s prudent to follow these tips:
Wash hands often with plain soap
Limit use of fragrances and fragrance-containing products
Use glass and stainless-steel containers when possible
Don’t microwave plastic containers
Reduce the use of canned foods, which often have BPA in the lining. Buy fresh, frozen, or dried foods instead
Learn about the dirty dozen and choose organic versions of these fruits and vegetables when possible
Filter tap water
Use cleaning products like diluted bleach, alcohol, baking soda paste, and vinegar and water instead of harsh cleaning products