What is BPA and can it hurt my child?
John Sarmiento, MD, is a pediatrician on staff at the Banner Health Clinic in Peoria. His office can be reached at (623) 327-8800.
Question: I’ve heard of “BPA” in the health news lately. What is BPA and how can it affect me and my children?
Answer: Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to strengthen plastic materials. Plastics with BPA are known as polycarbonate plastics. These plastics are widely used and can be found in food and liquid containers, safety equipment and even compact discs. BPA is also found in epoxy resins used to coat metal products. These resin linings prevent cans from rusting. BPA is strong and durable, but repeated exposure to high temperatures may cause it to break down. Although only trace amounts of BPA may be released under such circumstances, the dose that might affect humans is still controversial and under much scrutiny.
Many countries, including the United States, have studied BPA because of its widespread use and because some studies report adverse hormonal effects on animals exposed to BPA. Consequently, there is some concern about the potential risks of BPA on human fetuses and infants. The focus is on infants because during development they may be more exposed and vulnerable to BPA than adults. More research is in progress.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not banned or restricted the manufacture or use of any BPA products. Although no specific examples of medical harm or disability exist, there are class-action lawsuits pending against some companies that use polycarbonate plastics. To proactively address public concern, SC Johnson company (Ziploc, Saran wrap) states on its Web site that it does not use BPA. Tupperware’s Web site states that BPA is used in some products, but not in any children’s products. A major plastics manufacturer (Nalgene) has decided to phase out the use of BPA in its processing. The FDA still reassures that no immediate health risk exists.
While the jury is out, if BPA concerns you, take precautions to limit your infant’s and children’s exposure. You can avoid hard, clear plastic containers that include the recycling #7 or the letters “PC” as they often contain BPA. Since heat may release BPA from plastic, do not boil, microwave or put polycarbonate bottles in the dishwasher with harsh detergents.
For infant feeding, consider alternatives like BPA-free plastic bottles. Plastics that are not transparent do not contain BPA. Try porcelain or stainless steel containers. Glass bottles are an option, but take obvious precautions because a dropped or broken bottle can cause injuries.
As a reminder, breastfeeding is a natural way to avoid bottles. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for four months and preferably for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding is also recommended, in addition to complementary foods, through the first year of life. Consult your pediatrician with any specific questions about changing your child’s diet or lifestyle.
In the absence of global scientific and policy consensus, controversy will continue. In the meantime, the best we can all do on a personal level is to stay educated. Your doctor will continue to be a valuable resource on this issue.