A small but intriguing study suggests it may be possible to reduce one’s exposure to controversial chemicals called bisphenol-A and phthalates, simply by changing the way we eat for a few days.
All it seems to take is a diet with more freshly prepared food and less food from metal cans, plastic and metal containers.
BPA is a chemical that is often used in the linings of metal food and drink cans, as well as in clear, shatterproof plastic. It’s so prevalent in food packaging and other consumer items that research has found in the blood of at least 90 per cent of Americans.
Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and are found in some plastic food wrap, shower curtains and children’s toys, among other products.
Some studies conducted on animals have found the chemicals can mess with hormones, and can affect neural development and behaviour. Yet their effects on human health are less clear.
This study released by the non-profit breast cancer research group, Silent Spring Institute, offers some good news: once we stop being exposed to the chemicals, BPA and phthalate levels can drop quickly and dramatically.
For the study, five families in San Francisco, each with two children and two adults, were tested for BPA and the phthalate DEHP in their urine.
For three days, the families then ate organic, mostly fresh foods, with no foods from cans or plastic packaging.
The participants’ urine was tested again. Within just a few days, the BPA and DEHP levels in the family members dropped an average by 66 per cent, while phthalate levels dropped by 53 per cent.
The data appear in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives and was funded by Passport Foundation.
The families then returned to their normal diets for another three days and their urine was tested again. As expected, the levels of the chemicals shot back up.
For one of the environmental groups that sponsored the study, the study is proof of an important principle.
“People can reduce their BPA levels in their body by taking some simple measures,” says Janet Gray of Breast Cancer Foundation.
But food packagers have a different take on the findings. In a statement to CTV News, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance wrote: “It clearly demonstrates that BPA is rapidly processed and eliminated in urine rather than accumulating in the body.”
Environmentalists say the science so far about these chemicals is quite worrying.
“BPA and phthalates are potent hormone disruptors that have been very strongly linked to breast cancer, to prostate cancer, to other types of serious human disease,” Rick Smith from Environmental Defence tells CTV News.
But Prof. Rick Holley of the Department of Food Science at the University of Manitoba says he’s not convinced that the research so far has shown these chemicals pose a threat to Canadians.
“The science is not strong linking these compounds and toxicity in people,” he says.
With research still ongoing, environmentalists say the best approach is to try to avoid the chemicals as much as possible.
They suggest storing food in glass or metal containers, not plastic, and avoid eating foods and drinks from cans.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip