by Karin Russ MS, RN
We hear a lot about bisphenol A (BPA) in the news lately. While the federal government calls for further study of BPA, state legislatures are taking action to ban the substance in children’s products. Even in the absence of laws limiting the use of BPA, manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for BPA-free baby and children’s products. What’s all the fuss about?
BPA is a synthetic chemical added to plastics to improve their performance. Unfortunately, it also mimics estrogen in the body, and so is known in the medical world as an endocrine disrupting compound. Currently, consumer advocacy groups are focusing their efforts on eliminating BPA from children’s products, such as baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. This is a good start, aimed at protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
But because BPA disrupts the endocrine system, it may also have an effect on fertility. Over the last decade, animal studies have found that BPA has a negative effect on the quality of eggs produced. Now, two studies published in 2010 found negative effects on human fertility associated with BPA. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco looked at the level of BPA in blood samples taken from women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and compared the amount of the chemical in their blood with their chances of successful fertilization. They found that as the amount of BPA in a patient’s blood doubled, the chance of successful fertilization was cut in half. Another research team at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center, in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, measured the amount of BPA in patients’ urine, and compared it to the number of oocytes retrieved during IVF. They found that as the amount of BPA in a woman’s urine increased, there was a proportional decrease in the amount of eggs retrieved.
The way in which BPA interferes with oocyte development is not clear. Scientists speculate that the estrogenic compound may interfere with DNA formation or with the cytoplasm within the oocyte as it is maturing. Regardless, it’s a good precaution for couples experiencing infertility to avoid exposure to BPA.
BPA is found in certain types of plastic and in the plasticized epoxy lining of metal food cans. The Environmental Working Group has tested substances taken from containers made with BPA, and found that the chemical leaches into food and drinks during storage. While occasional use of canned food or drinking from containers made with BPA may expose us to a small amount of the chemical, continued use causes BPA to accumulate in the body. To reduce exposure to BPA, incorporate as many of these strategies as possible into your life:
§ Avoid canned foods- the highest levels of BPA are found in canned coconut milk, soups, meats, beans, juices, fish and meals-in-a-can.
§ Focus on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
§ Avoid beverages in epoxy-lined metal cans: beer, soda, juice.
§ Carry liquids in stainless steel bottles. Look for bottles that do not have a plastic liner.
§ Microwave in glass or ceramic dishes- never microwave plastic!
§ Avoid plastic wrap coming in contact with food.
§ Storing food in glass or steel containers is ideal.
§ If using plastic containers, choose items with recycling labels #1, #2 and #4 on the bottom- these do not contain BPA.
§ Avoid #7 plastics. These are polycarbonate (sometimes labeled “PC”) and contain BPA. 8,9
Karin Gunther Russ MS, RN is the National Coordinator for Fertility & Reproductive Health Working Group Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Karin is dedicated to minimizing environmental risks to women and children and will be blogging on environmental concerns and reproductive health for The AFA throughout the next several months. She lives with her husband, three children and three cats in Ellicott City, Maryland, near Washington DC.
1. Bishphenol A (BPA) Information for Parents. US Dept. of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa
2. Massachusetts Becomes Latest State to Ban BPA in Baby Bottles (2011). http://www.hktdc.com/info/mi/a/baus/en/1X07BSTV/1/Business-Alert-%E2%80%93-US/Massachusetts-Becomes-Latest-State-to-Ban-BPA-in-Baby-Bottles-.htm
3. Distinctions in Meiotic Spindle Structure and Assembly During In Vitro and In Vivo
Maturation of Mouse Oocytes. (2003). Alexandra Sanfins, Gloria Y. Lee, Carlos E. Plancha, Eric W. Overstrom, and David F. Albertini. http://www.kumc.edu/physiology/documents/DistinctionsinMeiotic.pdf
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6. Serum unconjugated bisphenol A concentrations in women may adversely influence oocyte quality during in vitro fertilization
Fertility and Sterility, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 3 December 2010
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8. Consumer Tips to Avoid BPA. Environmental Working Group.
9. Mission Local: How to Eliminate BPA Exposure