Is BPA messing up your hormones?
Plastic is not only a major environmental pollutant (worryingly only 9% is recycled!) but the chemicals in plastic bottles and food containers/wrappers are absorbed into our body throughout the digestive system and the skin and can end up affecting our health: from detoxing issues to weight gain and hormonal imbalances including fertility.
Bisphenol-A (BPA for short) is a plasticiser added to hard plastics (polycarbonates) and PVC to make them more flexible. Worldwide over 8 billion (!!) tonnes of this chemical are produced annually to be used in plastic bottles and other food containers like pouches or microwaveable food trays, tin linings and even clothes and shopping receipts (yes, really!!)
BPA in plastic containers can leach into our food and water, especially when heated, for example when microwaving food or putting them in the dishwasher. It only takes 20 washes for the BPA in a plastic container to start leaching into the food!
How does BPA affect our health?
BPA and weight gain/loss
- Research has found a significant association between BPA and obesity in children and teenagers many as it can affect thyroid health and, as a result, metabolism.
- Because BPA accumulates in fatty tissue, when losing weight we face higher levels of this chemical (and others!) queuing to get out of our body via the liver. So when embarking on a weigh loss programme, ensure your liver is properly supported with the necessary nutrients (see above) and that you are regular!
Also, as BPA accumulates as we put on weight in pregnancy and since this chemical crosses the placenta and can appear in breast milk, I recommend a gentle detox before trying for a baby and a diet as close to BPA-free as possible during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
BPA and hormonal balance
- BPA is considered a xenoestrogen which can mimic the effects of our natural oestrogen and even have a much stronger impact than natural oestrogen which in situations of hormonal imbalance can be an issue. BPA, and many other chemicals, are considered endocrine disruptors and that means they can affect our thyroid function and metabolism as well as our oestrogen and testosterone balance.
- When our hormonal balance is off, the risk of PCOS, endometriosis and fertility issues increases. Endocrine disruption can also worsen PMS and menopause symptoms.
- Fertility can be affected by chemical burden even if PCOS and and are not present so it is a good idea to reduce BPA intake and test for exposure in cases of unexplained infertility
- Higher BPA levels have been found in women with PCOS due to lower clearance through the liver which in turn can increase androgens and potentiate insuring resistance.
- Men exposed to high BPA levels have lower levels of testosterone which can have a negative effect on libido, sexual function and even sperm count.
How about BPA-free plastics?
Unfortunately, they are not the answer to chemical-free containers as they often have bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF) or fluorene-9-bisphenol (BHPF) which can also disrupt the endocrine system (i.e our hormonal balance). So, to avoid BPA and other harmful chemicals, stay away from plastic bottles (both single use and reusable) and other plastic food containers. But please don’t fret, there are some great alternatives, just keep reading.
How can we get rid of the BPA in our bodies?
- BPA is eliminated after being processed by the liver. The liver detoxes chemicals by making them water soluble so they can be excreted. BPA is metabolised in a process called glucurodination which also eliminates recreational and medical drugs, tobacco and herbicides.
We can support BPA elimination through diet
- Firstly, boost your intake of nutrients to support glucuronidation, the liver detox process that makes BPA water soluble.
1 Ellagic acid in berries
2 Quercetin in green tea
3 Carotenoids in all orange and dark green veg like squash and spinach
4 Anthocyanins found in purple veg and fruit like purple carrots (yes!!) and 5 Allicin founding garlic, onions and leeks.
- But that’s not all, we should support a well balanced liver detox process with plenty of brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower) and sulphur containing foods like egg yolks, onions and garlic.
- Drinking plenty of water to aid elimination via the urine
- Having enough fibre (minimum of 30g/day) from fruit and veg, wholegrains, nuts and seeds to ensure elimination via the faeces.
- Not overwhelming the liver and other detox pathways with more toxins like processed foods (which tend to also contain BPA in there packaging), alcohol and sugar.
So, how can we reduce our exposure to BPA. In two words: go fresh!
- But fresh produce at farmers markets (no plastic wrapping!) or loose fruit and veg at the supermarket.
- Get fish and meat from the butcher and transfer your purchases to a glass container as soon as you get home.
- Do not heat plastic in the microwave, if fact, avoid the microwave completely if you can.
- Do not wash your plastic containers in the dishwasher
- As soon as plastic containers start looking scratched, recycle them.
- Avoid plastic bottles for water – both single use and reusable. Invest in a glass or stainless steel bottles
- Plastic chopping boards get damaged with use, releasing BPA into food, so it is better to use wooden ones. Just wished them regularly in warm soapy water.
- Most tins (beans, corn, tuna) are lines with BPA, so go for glass jars whenever possible. I save the jars to store nuts, dried beans, etc…
- Ditch the cling film, use waxed paper or even better move to beeswax cotton wraps which are reusable and a much better option than foil!
- Invest in glass and stainless steel containers that are also versatile and save washing up as can be used in the freezer, fridge, oven, etc.
- Avoid processed food and foods wrapped in plastic, especially fatty ones as fat helps release BPA into the foods. If you cannot avoid plastic wrapping, transfer to glass/beeswax wraps ASAP.
- Drink filtered water or mineral water in glass bottles. Mineral water in plastic bottles (BPS free or not) may have been exposed to high temperatures releasing the chemicals into the water.
- Are water filters any good at reducing BPA? Filters remove impurities, toxins and BPA to some extent. There is no research that shows how much BPA is removed by carbon/osmosis filters but since BPA is an organic compound it should be removed at least partially. Just a couple of notes: avoid filters made out of plastic obviously and change the filter regularly!
- Read your labels and avoid plastics marked with “PC”, i.e. polycarbonate, or recycling label #7 as most of them contain BPA.
- Say not to shopping recipes unless absolutely necessary as the BPA in those thermal printed bit of paper transfers to the skin and is absorbed really quickly!
Good news is that it takes just a few days to reduce BPA levels in your body by half. And all you’e got to do is cut back on plastic and eat more veg!
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