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Pots, Pans, and Plastics: A Shopper's Guide to Food Safety

Plastics and the BPA Story continued...

"Over a dozen studies clearly show that BPA is not only leaching from cans, but it reaches the food stored inside," says Vandenberg.

The BPA we ingest gets into our bloodstream. Regular monitoring by the CDC shows that more than 90% of us have detectable levels of bisphenol A in our bodies.

Among all the other plastic substances that get into our food, BPA stands out, according to Vandenberg, for its ability to disrupt the functions of hormones -- especially estrogen.

Hundreds of studies show that high doses of BPA disrupt reproductive development and function in laboratory animals. Levels in humans were thought to be too low to be of concern, but more recent research has challenged that perception, Vandenberg tells WebMD.

"Several animal studies suggest that BPA has effects at much lower doses than previously believed," says Vandenberg. "The levels of BPA in people frequently exceed the levels shown to have effects in rodents in these studies," she adds.

Chemical industry sources are quick to point out that this "low-dose hypothesis" has not yet been proven. They cite studies that have not shown harm from BPA at low doses in rodents. However, a new study in a prestigious journal also shows the low-dose BPA effect not just in rats but in monkeys, whose systems are more like humans.

One large, well-conducted study in humans showed that people who had high levels of BPA in the urine had a higher rate of diabetes, heart disease, and liver toxicity.

Altogether, Vandenberg believes a "fragile consensus" exists among scientists that BPA might be harmful. "Looking at the data we have, there is no reason to conclude we are all safe from BPA's effects," she tells WebMD.

The FDA recently repeated its previous statements that current BPA exposures are safe. However, the National Institutes of Health's latest review voiced "some concern" about BPA's effects.

If you want to reduce your exposure to BPA, there are some steps you can take:

  • Eat less canned food, and more frozen or fresh food. In addition to avoiding BPA, you'll also get more nutrients and less sodium -- both steps toward a healthier diet.
  • Breastfeed your baby, or use powdered formula instead of cans.
  • Avoid bottles and plastic containers that are made from polycarbonate (usually marked with a  number 7 or the letters PC) and if you want to reduce exposure to phthalates, avoid polyvinyl chloride (marked with a number 3 or PVC).

Phthalates: Is Your Food Plasticized?

Phthalates are a group of chemical "plasticizers" that are used in a huge variety of consumer products, from PVC pipes to perfume. With billions of pounds produced annually, phthalates ("THAL-ates") are everywhere. They're even in the indoor dust we breathe. Random sampling by the CDC shows most people in the U.S. have detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies. Phthalates have been banned in the European Union since 2005. Nine other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Argentina, have also outlawed the chemicals.

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