What do the following have in common: vehicle headlights, a baby bottle, a microwavable plastic food container and a DVD?  Would you believe synthetic estrogen?

In the 1930’s, scientists experimented with a chemical compound in the hopes of using it in hormone therapy.  A few years later it was discovered that this particular compound, when combined with others, created a multi-purpose plastic that was clear, durable and lightweight, with high heat resistance.  Decades later, manufacturers continued to use this plastic in a wide variety of items- from bullet-proof security panels, shatter-proof headlights, light weight polycarbonate eyeglass lenses, sports equipment and electronic equipment, to name a few.

This “useful” chemical, called Bisphenol A (BPA), also found its way into the food chain through its use in the manufacturing of lightweight reusable water bottles, clear hard plastic microwavable food containers, baby bottles, epoxy resins used to line cans used for food and beverages as well as dental sealants.

BPA is leached into food and drink when the container is heated- through daily use (i.e. microwave use) or manufacturing procedures; when it is used to hold hot foods and beverages or cleaned with harsh and abrasive materials.  The food or beverage contained is then consumed and BPA has now been inadvertently added to your diet.  It is also detected in breast milk.

Human and animal studies since the 1990’s have associated BPA exposure to infertility, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Studies conducted in 2010 showed decreased sperm quality in men and poor egg quality in women associated with levels of BPA found in the body.  It has been shown to be a harmful endocrine disruptor, even in small doses.  It mimics the effect of the hormone estrogen (surprised?) and can act as an anti-androgenic. Concerns over its unknown effect on young children and developing fetuses have been expressed.

In 2008 Canada banned the use and import of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.  With increased consumer awareness, many retail stores have pulled much of their BPA-containing merchandise off shelves and several companies have ceased to make products containing BPA.  In 2010, BPA was added to Environment Canada’s list of toxic substances.

Although the use of BPA has declined, it is still present in our environment.  The best way to reduce exposure to BPA and other chemicals is to avoid the use of plastic containers to heat and store food.

Replace plastic food containers with glass containers and bottles. 

Ensure that cans containing food, beverages and infant formulas are BPA-free. 

Replace old plastic baby bottles with glass bottles. 

Old plastic infant and children’s toys should be replaced with toys made from safer materials. 

Discard food containers if they are made of clear, hard plastic

Watch out for items manufactured before 2008 and/or have the recycling code 7, as they are more likely to contain BPA.

Avoid microwaving food in any plastic container. 

Avoid excessive handling of receipts and thermal paper documents, as they have been shown to contain BPA. 

As BPA has been linked to infertility, couples wishing to conceive are advised to avoid exposure to BPA, in addition to a monitored detoxification program prior to attempting to conceive- either naturally or through an assisted reproductive technology program.  This may increase chances of success in conception and pregnancy and will reduce mother and fetus exposure to this harmful chemical.