BPA in Plastic Bottles: What’s the Big Deal About ‘Little Beards’?

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“The only thing that I heard is if you take plastic and put it in the microwave and heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. And so, I mean, in the worst case, some women might have little beards”   

~Paul LePage, Governor of Maine

Long ago, I cut a deal with my best friend: if one of us is on our death bed unable to care for ourselves, the other will tweeze her friend’s “man hairs.”  It may sound vain to some, but there is dignity even in death. When my mom lay dying in her hospice bed, I plucked the dark hair from her chin and upper lip, trimmed her nails, and brushed her hair, because I knew she wouldn’t want to “be seen like that”.  It was the least I could do after all those years she spent caring for and grooming me.

So I took great offense when Maine Governor Paul LePage–exhibiting astounding ignorance (even for a politician) of the delicate balance of human chemistry–made his remark about “women might have little beards.”  As if a woman having a little beard was no big deal, right?

Now before you go accusing me of over-reacting to media and environmentalist hype about the side effects of BPA–or bisphenol A- a compound added to plastic bottles and other packaging materials to increase flexibility, transparency, durability–first consider what a “big deal” it is in the scientific community.Two recent studies in Italy and Germany show that suboptimal storage conditions—such as prolonged exposure to sunlight and high temperatures—can cause leaching of BPA in plastic bottles into fluid contents resulting in high levels of estrogenic activity in plastic-bottled water. In other words, plastic bottles can leach chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system.

The endocrine system is responsible for making our hormones. Hormones are substances that help to control activities in your body. Different types of hormones control reproduction, metabolism (food burning and waste elimination), growth and development, and yes, even facial hair. Hormones also control the way you respond to your surroundings, and they help to provide the proper amount of energy and nutrition your body needs to function.While too few studies have been conducted to know with certitude about potential human health effects of drinking plastic−bottled beverages, as Lisbeth Prifogle of Hormones Matter reported previously, investigators have found that BPAs combined with the xenoestrogens in our environment cause male fish to grow eggs in their testes, female deer mice to pick males who weren’t exposed to BPA in a controlled environment, hyperactive rats (some scientist speculate that endocrine disruptors could be linked to the rise in ADHD amongst school children) and many other strange behaviors in the animal kingdom.

The National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, suggests, in response to the European studies, that people move away from polycarbon−ate plastics [due BPA concerns].

In women with PCOS or other hormone problems, BPA can be especially problematic. Researchers from Athens report:

“Blood levels of BPA were nearly 60 percent higher in lean women with PCOS and more than 30 percent higher in obese women with the syndrome when compared to controls. Additionally, as BPA levels increased, so did concentrations of the male sex hormone testosterone and androstenedione, a steroid hormone that converts to testosterone.”

So Governor LePage, if you’re reading this, let me see if I can help you understand what the “big deal” is. Suppose you were exposed to an everyday chemical that made your breasts “a little” larger or your testes produce eggs. Or what if BPA led to sexual dysfunction in men? No big deal, Right? What’s a little Viagra between friends.Sources:

International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, March 2009
Environmental Science and Pollution Research, March 2009

Environmental Health Perspectives, “Estrogens in a Bottle?”, June 2009

This image (or other media file) is in the public domain, per US public domain laws, because its copyright has expired. For more information see the file at wikimedia commons.

Amy Roost’s passion is public health and policy. She earned a BA in political science from George Washington University and an MA in International Affairs from Columbia University in New York. Amy has worked as a press aide for Charles Percy, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and many non-profit organizations. She served as the Executive Director of the Chaparral Educational Foundation, the Del Mar Schools Foundation and The Thriver’s Network. In 2006, she founded Co-optimize, a business assisting independent bookstores across the country with various business services. She has spent the past several years developing and marketing the company’s proprietary software. Presently, Amy is moving in the direction of social entrepreneurship. As a blogger and marketing strategist, she hopes to speak for others whose voices are not yet being heard in the policy and research arenas.

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