BPA-Free Plastic is Not Toxin-Free
Why glass containers are still a superior choice for your supplements as well as your food and drinks.
What is BPA?
The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is infamous as a toxic component of plastics. It has been used in epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics since the 1960s, but in the early 2000s, scientists started conducting more experiments that questioned its safety for use in food containers. BPA can leach from a plastic container into the food it holds and is thereby ingested unknowingly.
Once inside the body, BPA works as an estrogen mimic, interfering with the body’s normal hormonal signaling. In human epidemiological studies, BPA exposure (measured predominantly via urinary concentrations) has been linked to a variety of health issues including reduced sperm quality, reduced fertilization success, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), altered neural development, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes . Its negative effects have been hypothesized to be most pronounced in developing fetuses, babies, and children, causing possible developmental defects in the brain and sexual organs . For this reason, by 2012, BPA was outlawed as a component of baby bottles. BPA is most likely to leach into its contents when heated, and because baby bottles are often heated when filled with milk and often drank from by the most vulnerable age group of humans, this law made clear sense. Japan and Canada took precautions a step further by outlawing BPA in any plastic that touches food . Unfortunately, BPA is still a legal ingredient in plastics in the US and is regularly used in the linings of aluminum cans used to contain food and drinks. Because it is not required for packaging to be labeled as containing BPA, we really don’t know how often we are exposed to the chemical.
What about BPA-free plastics?
Since BPA’s potential hazards made headlines, many companies have elected to choose BPA-free packaging to ease consumer worries. Unfortunately for consumers, many of those companies made this decision only based on improving their image for sales, without actually increasing consumer safety. We may be paying a premium for BPA-free plastic because we believe it to be a “safer” product when that statement is misleading.
When BPA is removed from a formula, it is often replaced with chemicals called bisphenol S (BPS), bisphenol F (BPF), or bisphenol AF (BPAF) which act similarly to BPA, are similarly as toxic but are technically “BPA-free” . One problem with endocrine-disrupting chemicals is that sometimes a very small amount of the toxin is more hazardous than a larger dose, as the body doesn’t recognize or react to it as a toxin, but as a hormone signal . Depending on the doses used during testing, research results can vary significantly in showing whether and how a chemical affects the subjects, thereby affecting the conclusions drawn by researchers on whether or not the chemical is safe for consumption.
BPS was chosen as a replacement for BPA with the initial belief that it would be resistant to leaching in response to heat, but studies have since shown that BPS levels in humans are nearly as high as BPA levels, that BPS still works in the body as an endocrine disruptor, and BPS is potentially more environmentally hazardous . Still, plastics containing BPS can be labeled “BPA-free”.
Even plastic containers that are truly free of bisphenols still hold hazardous potential. Scientists from Harvard Medical School tested forty-six common pesticides, phthalates, and byproducts of the oil and gas industry and found that 41 percent of these compounds were equally or more disruptive to the endocrine (hormone) system than BPA . One of those chemicals, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, has been found to cause a range of problems when ingested. DHEP is prevalent in to-go boxes, plastic utensils, and other plastic containers. Studies show that people who eat more fast food tend to have higher DEHP levels in their systems . DEHP interferes with cell division in several ways, causing defects during egg formation and early embryonic development . Animal studies have also suggested that DEHP may have an effect on liver cells that can lead to liver cancer and has been associated with infertility in adult animals .
Why are glass containers a better choice than plastic?
Glass containers are made mostly of sand, limestone, and soda ash, not synthetic chemicals. And, unlike plastic, glass does not leach into the contents it holds. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about ingesting a little bit of your container when you eat or drink its contents. It is also easier to keep clean than plastic as it is non-porous, without microscopic pockets for bacterial growth to take hold.
Glass is generally better for the environment than plastic too. It is truly recyclable, whereas plastic can really only be “down-cycled” into a few materials. If glass or plastic are littered or don’t make it to the recycling plant, plastic can leach into the soil or aquatic environments the same way it does into your food, poisoning the water and earth. Glass is made of sand and will eventually break down into sand. Even though it does not degrade quickly, when it does break down it does not harm the natural balance of the earth around it.
Glass may be more expensive than plastic, but your health is worth the investment. Rather than wonder what might make its way into your food, drinks, and supplements from the container around them, choose products in glass packaging with nothing to hide.
- Moreman, John, et al. “Acute toxicity, teratogenic, and estrogenic effects of bisphenol A and its alternative replacements bisphenol S, bisphenol F, and bisphenol AF in zebrafish embryo-larvae.” Environmental science & technology 51.21 (2017): 12796-12805.
- Zuckerman, Diana, et al. “Are Bisphenol A (BPA) plastic products safe for infants and children?.” Issue Brief, National Research Center for Women and Families 2 (2009).
- Bilbrey, Jenna. “BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous.” Scientific American. August 11, 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-free-plastic-containers-may-be-just-as-hazardous/#:~:text=Yet%2C%20recent%20research%20reveals%20that,it%20can%20enter%20the%20body.
- Zeldovich, Lina. “How Safe is BPA-Free Plastic?” JSTOR Daily. February 4, 2020. https://daily.jstor.org/how-safe-is-bpa-free-plastic/