BPA (bisphenol-A) is gaining recognition as an undesirable toxin that people now try to avoid in plastics, particularly water bottles. But it's harder to avoid than you think – research shows handling those seemingly innocuous store receipts quickly raises blood levels of BPA.
BPA on store receipts
Store and fast food receipts, ATM receipts, airline tickets, gas station receipts, and other thermal papers use large amounts of BPA on the surface as a print developer. Holding a receipt coated with BPA for just five seconds is enough to transfer it to your skin and if your fingers are wet or greasy about 10 times as much is transferred. Having hand sanitizers, lotions, or sunscreen on your hands also increases the amount of BPA your body takes in from receipts. Cash stored with receipts in a wallet also become contaminated with BPA that raises blood levels when handled.
Why BPA is bad for health
So why should you care? BPA has estrogen-like qualities that meddle with hormone function and become a toxic burden. In rodents BPA has been proven to cause reproductive defects, cancer, and metabolic and immune problems. BPA is particularly threatening to a developing fetus as it can cause chromosomal errors, miscarriage, and genetic damage. In children and adults BPA is linked to decreased sperm quality, early puberty and early breast development, ovarian and reproductive dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and obesity.
BPA and autoimmunity
Recent research also links BPA to the triggering and flaring of autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto's hypothyroidism. BPA does this because it stimulates and disrupts various pathways in the immune system, which raises the risk of triggering autoimmune disease or flare-ups.
Where BPA is found
BPA is the main component of polycarbonate and is also found in water and beverage bottles, plastic lids, the lining of tin cans, food storage containers, dental sealants, contact lenses, and electronics. BPA contamination from canned foods is significant. One study found a person who eats canned soup versus fresh soup receives 1,000 percent more BPA because it is in the lining of the can. Plastics exposed to heat, light, or acids (such as soda) release considerably more BPA. Eating from a microwaved plastic container and drinking hot coffee through a plastic coffee lid, sugary soda from a plastic water bottle, or water from a plastic bottle that has been sitting in the sun are examples of ways you will increase your exposure to BPA.
BPA-free is no guarantee
Given the documented health risks it poses, BPA has been banned from use in baby bottles and sippy cups and many companies now offer BPA-free products. Unfortunately, researchers have found many non-BPA plastics still have synthetic estrogens similar to BPA. Some even have more. Basically, if it's plastic, it's a problem– 95 percent of all plastic products can disrupt hormones, even if they carry a "BPA-free" label. Also, be aware that some metal water bottles are lined with plastic, negating the purpose of avoiding a plastic water bottle.
How to reduce your exposure to BPA
It's important to reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible. Minimize use of plastics and especially avoid drinking or eating from heated plastic. Maintaining healthy gut bacteria with cultured and fermented foods such as kimchi and taking probiotics is believed to help mitigate the absorption of BPA and help degrade it in the body.