Research has found that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) is hard to avoid, but what does BPA do to your body?

Traces of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound used to make plastics, has been found in the bodies of 86 percent of teenagers.

Measurable levels of BPA were found in the urine of the vast majority of the 94 17- to 19-year-olds tested.

This is according to research at the University of Exeter led by Professor Lorna Harries, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics, and Professor Tamara Galloway, Professor of Ecotoxicology.

What is BPA?

BPA is an industrial chemical which has been used since the 1960s to make certain types of plastic.

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The chemical can be found in plastic containers and water bottles, till receipts, on the inside of cans and bottle tops and in plastic packaging and tubing.

DVDs, CDs and sunglasses can also contain BPA though this is not a major route for exposure through skin.

What does BPA do to your body?

The EU Member State Committee (MSC) has said that bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system

BPA is a chemical with similarities to oestrogen. It is capable of causing changes to the expression of oestrogen-responsive genes and the regulation of hormones.

This is according to previous research by the Exeter team.

Related: Everyday chemicals impact kids’ brain development

How does BPA get into your body?

BPA is can get into the body through our diet. Highly-processed foods, or foods packaged in some plastics, can contain high levels of BPA.

Leaching of BPA from products can increase with higher temperatures and with time and use, for example through repeated use of plastic water bottles if they contain BPA.

Why were teenagers studied?

Teenagers are thought to be one of the population demographics with the highest levels of BPA exposure.

BPA passes relatively swiftly out of the body with a short half-life of around six hours, but measurable BPA was detected in 86% of the participating students, with an average level of 1.9ng/ml.

Can you protect yourself from BPA?

For a week the students followed a BPA-free diet and avoided plastic packaging which contains BPA, switched to stainless steel and glass food and drink storage containers and avoided tinned food. They were also asked to switch to ceramic or glass food containers for use in the microwave.

“We found that a diet designed to reduce exposure to BPA, including avoiding fruit and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, had little impact on BPA levels in the body,” said Professor Galloway.

“Our students who followed the BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it long term, because labelling of BPA products was inconsistent. They found it difficult to source and identify BPA-free foods.”

Overall, teenagers who spent a week following guidelines designed to reduce BPA exposure in their diet did not see a drop in exposure. However, some of those with the highest levels of BPA in their urine did show some reduction.

The Exeter academics said consistent labelling of packaging would enable consumers to identify products containing BPA.

Source: University of Exeter via

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