BPA Substitutes Linked to Child Obesity

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Just because something is BPA-free doesn't mean it's safe.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical commonly used to line aluminum food cans to prevent a metallic taste from passing into the food. In recent years it has come under fire as an endocrine disruptor, which means it messes with natural human hormone function, particularly those of young children and adolescents, and persists in the body for years.

Due to this public scrutiny, BPA has been replaced in some places by bisphenol S (BPS) or bisphenol F (BPF). These new substitutes serve the same purpose as BPA, i.e. lining food and drink cans and added to thermal paper receipts that rely on heat to print, rather than ink. Like so many other chemicals, these bisphenols are 'generally recognized as safe (GRAS)' by the FDA, but this is due to their being grandfathered into the system more than 60 years ago, rather than rigorously tested.

Now, more evidence is in that they're not as safe as people thought, which should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering that BPS and BPF have almost exactly the same chemical structure as BPA and would logically have a similar effect on the body.

A study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society found that, while exposure to BPA is declining, children with higher levels of BPS and BPF are more likely to be obese than those with lower levels. Researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, evaluating associations between BPA, BPS, and BPF (found in urine samples) and body mass outcomes among 6- to 19-year-olds.

Dr. Nagendra Gupta, an internist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial, explained to Healthline how obesogens work and why BPA, BPS, and BPF are so worrisome:

"An obesogen is a substance that disrupts the endocrine system and the body’s metabolism such that it promotes fat accumulation, weight gain, and obesity... These chemicals look like and act like hormones, thus confusing the human endocrine system and causing disruption of its normal functions, resulting in a variety of effects, some of which can be harmful."

The study was conducted because "these chemicals are very common in the U.S.," according to study co-author Dr. Melanie Jacobson. BPS and BPF are being used more frequently as a replacement for BPA, despite little research to support their safety.

The best route is to avoid these bisphenol chemicals altogether. Most labelling, however, is restricted to BPA and will not state whether there is BPS or BPF. Thus, buying and handling fewer of the products that likely contain these chemicals is the safest approach.

In Dr. Jacobson's words, "Without a clear label to differentiate bisphenol from non-bisphenol linings [e.g. oleoresin], parents can minimize children’s exposure by reducing consumption of processed foods such as canned foods, avoiding thermal paper receipts, and not microwaving polycarbonate plastic food containers."

Back to soaking and cooking those dried beans, folks!