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It's nearly everywhere, in a huge number of products… and studies show that it's found in the urine of 95 percent of Americans.
It's called Bisphenol A, or BPA for short. It's widely used in the production of plastic food containers and as a protective liner in metal cans (your soda can, for example).
It became widely used in the 1950s when scientists first discovered its uses in the food and beverage industry. Never mind that twenty years earlier BPA was already understood to be toxic.1
Early warnings of toxicity were ignored or forgotten. BPA is now in the top two percent of high-production chemicals in the U.S., with annual production exceeding one billion pounds (1993 numbers — by now it's surely increased). In a moment I'll suggest easy ways to avoid it. First let me explain WHY to avoid it.
BPA's Far-Reaching Tentacles...During the past twenty years, scientists have detected BPA in breast milk, serum, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, and cord blood from at least 2,200 people in Europe, North America, and Asia.2
Center for Disease Control researchers found BPA in 95% of 400 U.S. adults it tested.3
It's so common in products and industrial waste that it pollutes not just people… but also rivers, estuaries, sediment, house dust and even air.
Environmental Working Group tested 97 food cans for BPA — name-brand fruit, veggies, and soda. They found that chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had the most frightening BPA levels. Just 1-3 servings at these concentrations could expose a woman or child to BPA at levels that caused serious adverse effects in animal studies.4
Since it's practically everywhere — and IN everyone -- wouldn't you agree it's important to understand what it might do to your health?
Is BPA an innocent chemical or a carcinogenic nightmare waiting for a place to happen? It all depends on whose studies you believe. Here's what I've been able to find. . .
What is BPA, Anyway?BPA is a precursor chemical for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. It is not an additive, and there is no reason or purpose for it to be added to plastics.
As a polycarbonate, it's used in 'sports' bottles, dental sealants, cell phones, computers and other electronic equipment, eyeglasses, medical devices, CDs and DVDs, and more. It is also in infant-formula cans and many clear plastic baby bottles.
Epoxy resins are used as protective liners in metal cans ... as well as in printed circuit boards, composites, paints, adhesives, and other protective coatings.
BPA was developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen. That should set off your alarm bells right away, if you know much about carcinongens (substances that cause cancer).
BPA's Potential Link to CancerNumerous studies suggest BPA is linked to cancer, either directly or indirectly. Here's a quick sampling of published research. The CEHRER (Center for Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction) had 465 studies on record from 1993 and 2006, so I had lots to choose from...
- BPA caused persistent changes to breast tissue. Breast cells became predisposed to cancer, hormonal changes.5 6
- Prostate cells became more sensitive to hormones and cancer7 8
- Exposure led to an error in cell division, causing cancer, among other issues.9
- Low doses spurred formation and growth of fat cells, linked to obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer.10
The broad toxicity of BPA is thought to stem from the fact that it can alter the behavior of over 200 genes12 — which control the growth and repair of most every organ and tissue in your body.
As a whole, the toxic effects linked to BPA are strikingly similar to health problems found across the entire population — breast and prostate cancer, diabetes (see Issue #13 about diabetes' possible connection with cancer; you can check it out at cancerdefeatednewsletter.com), obesity, infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
What Do the Leading Experts Believe about BPA?In August 2007, 38 of the world's leading scientific experts on BPA published a consensus statement about its potential threat to our health.
In preparation, these experts spent six months studying more than 700 published studies on BPA. Then they spent days discussing and sorting the literature into three levels of scientific confidence:
- We are absolutely certain of…
- We believe the following to be likely, but require confirmation…
- Areas of uncertainty needing further research…
- Average levels of BPA in people are above those that cause harm to lab animals in experiments. Levels causing adverse effects in animals are lower than what is already in people.
- Humans may metabolize BPA faster than animals — meaning that daily human exposure is in effect even higher.
- BPA causes organizational changes in the prostate, breast, testes, and mammary glands. In addition it affects the body size, brain structure and chemistry, and behavior of lab animals.
The FDA Strikes AgainIt all depends on who you listen to...
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) — the scientific research arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — reported in September 2008 'some concern' that BPA harms your brain and reproductive system.
Despite the fact that FDA is supposed to listen to the advice of the NTP, they came out with their own ruling before the NTP report...
Declaring that "at current levels of exposure" BPA is safe. The FDA's own science board questioned the finding, but the FDA still refused to change its position.
Absurd enough yet?
Fast Company (Feb. 1, 2009) decided to investigate this strange approach to "science".
They stated the BPA controversy may be more about a battle to protect a multi-billion-dollar industry from regulation than a scientific dispute.
BPA is worth over $6 billion per year to the five companies that produce it. These companies each referred Fast Company's questions about BPA safety to their trade association, American Chemistry Council (ACC).
"No, there isn't anything to be concerned about. In a sense you could have 'some concern' about just about anything," says Steve Hentges, their spokesman on BPA.
So, let's get this straight...
Of the 100 independently funded experiments (per Fast Company's numbers), 90% found evidence of adverse health effects.
On the other hand, every single industry-funded study ever conducted — a total of 14 — found no ill effects.
Sounds strangely suspicious, wouldn't you agree?
Regulators paid attention only to industry-funded studies… largely thanks to a group of 'product defense consultants' — funded by the chemical industry — who sowed doubt about any BPA negative effects.
These 'product defense consultants' borrowed the playbook from the storm over tobacco and asbestos.
When it was time to make a decision, the FDA chose to ignore a wide array of studies from peer-reviewed journals, placing heavy emphasis on unpublished industry-funded studies instead.
It looks like industry insiders were 'in bed' with the FDA to stall regulation.
Not all commercial interests are falling for the FDA's and plastic industry's opinion, though.
- Nalgene Outdoor Products announced that it would quit production of its polycarbonate containers that include BPA and bring out a BPA-free line.
- Wal-Mart announced it would stop selling baby bottles with BPA, effective in 2009.
- Canada moved to outlaw BPA from baby bottles.
Ditto for your children, especially during pregnancy and early childhood — a particularly high-risk time for BPA exposure.
How to Cut Your Risk of BPA ExposureSince BPA won't likely be regulated any time soon, it's time to take matters into your own hands to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here are some easy ideas:
- Use glass, ceramic containers, or stainless steel for storing food — no plastics.
- Never heat plastics in the microwave, put them in the dishwasher, or pour hot food or liquid into them. Use glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for hot items.
- Don't use #3 or #7 plastics for food or beverage. #1, #2, and #5 are considered safe. You'll find these numbers inside a triangle on the bottom of the plastic.
- Avoid canned food as much as possible. Cook with fresh ingredients.
- Use only glass baby bottles (and sports bottles), stainless steel, or one of the new plastics that are BPA-free.
1 Dodds, EC and W Lawson 1938. Molecular structure in relation to oestrogenic activity. Compounds without a phenanthrene nucleus. Proceedings of the Royal Society. London B. 125:222-232.
2 U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/chemicals/bisphenol/bisphenol.pdf , 2006.
3 Calafat, AM, Z Kuklenyik, JA Reidy, SP Caudill, J Ekong and LL Needham. 2005. Urinary Concentrations of Bisphenol A and 4-Nonylphenol in a Human Reference Population. Environmental Health Perspectives 113:391-395.
5 Monica Munoz-de-Toro, Caroline Markey, Perinaaz R. Wadia, Enrique H. Luque, Beverly S. Rubin, Carlos Sonnenschein, and Ana M. Soto, Endocrinology, doi:10.1210/en.2005-0340
6 Murray, TJ, MV. Maffini, AA Ucci, C Sonnenschein and AM. Soto. 2006. Induction of mammary gland ductal hyperplasias and carcinoma in situ following fetal bisphenol A exposure. Reproductive Toxicology 23: 383-390.
7 Ho, SM. 2006.
8 Timms, B. G., K. L. Howdeshell, L. Barton, S. Bradley, C. A. Richter and F. S. vom Saal. 2005. Estrogenic chemicals in plastic and oral contraceptives disrupt development of the mouse prostate and urethra. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 102: 7014-7019.
9 Hunt, PA, KE Koehler, M Susiarjo, CA Hodges, A Ilagan, RC Voigt, S Thomas, BF Thomas and TJ Hassold. 2003. Bisphenol A exposure causes meiotic aneuploidy in the female mouse. Current Biology 13: 546-553.
10 Masumo H., Kidani, T., Sekiya K., Sakayama, K., Shiosaka, T., Yamamoto, H., and Honda K. (2002). Bisphenol A in combination with insulin can accelerate the conversion of 3T3L1 fibroblasts to adipocytes. J. Lipid Res. 43, 676-684.
11 Krishnan, A, P Stathis, S Permuth, L Tokes, and D Feldman. 1993 Bisphenol-A: An Estrogenic Substance is Released from Polycarbonate Flasks During Autoclaving. Endocrinology 132(8):2279-2286.
12 Edwards Thea M., Myers John Peterson. Environmental exposures and gene regulation in disease etiology. Ciênc. saúde coletiva [serial on the Internet]. 2008 Feb [cited 2010 Mar 23] ; 13(1): 269-281. Available from: http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1413-812320080... doi: 10.1590/S1413-81232008000100030.