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Women's Health

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Simple Lifestyle May Limit Exposure to Chemicals

Mennonite Community Study Suggests Link Between Simple Life, Lower BPA Levels
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 26, 2012 -- Concerned about exposure to the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and other potentially harmful chemicals in the environment?

You may be able to reduce your risks by leading a simpler life in the fashion of the Old Order Mennonite (OOM) community.

The Old Order Mennonites are a Christian group who eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods; farm without pesticides; and rarely use personal care products. The OOM community is known to have low rates of obesity, diabetes, and infertility.

In a small study, 10 pregnant women from the OOM community had significantly lower levels of BPA and phthalate (pronounced thal-ate) metabolites in their urine than pregnant women in the general U.S. population.

Researchers analyzed urine samples from the 10 pregnant OOM women for the presence and levels of BPA and nine phthalate metabolites. These results were compared to those of pregnant women who participated in the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Although the researchers also gathered information on OOM participants' product use, lifestyle, and household environment within a 48-hour period prior to collection, they did not have similar data to compare for the NHANES.

BPA is a chemical used in the manufacturing of many metal food and beverage cans. It is also in napkins, toilet paper, tickets, food wrappers, newspapers, and receipts. Phthalates are found in cosmetics, scented candles, and plastics. These chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors, which means they affect hormones in the body.

But at least one expert tells WebMD that although this study showed higher levels of chemicals in some pregnant women, it doesn't prove that these chemicals have done any harm.

The new findings appear Neurotoxicology.

Follow in the OOM Community's Footsteps

"If you are concerned or afraid, you really can control your risk by limiting exposure to BPA and phthalates," says researcher Shanna H. Swan, PhD. She is a professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Swan suggests that you can reduce your exposure to these chemicals by:

  • Eating unprocessed foods
  • Choosing organic foods wherever possible
  • Avoiding canned foods (unless they are packaged in BPA-free cans)
  • Minimizing your use of personal care products and cosmetics that contain these chemicals
  • Choosing chemical-free cleaning products and personal care products

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