In the first part of this series, I concentrated on describing the two main definitions of food that most people use to guide their eating habits. I also began laying down the ground for a detailed description of pesky ingredients that are present in our ‘food’ even though they are not supposed to be there.
As explained in the first article, food is understood either as “something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies“ the body with the nutrients it needs to remain healthy or sometimes simply as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” The first, not the second, should be the definition we all use to guide our eating habits. Why? Because food materials may not be the right sources of nutrients that our body needs to be well nourished.
Remember, not all protein, cabs and fats are created equal. I pose the idea that nature and only nature has the ability to create food that has the proper protein, carbohydrates, fats and other ingredients to nourish, sustain and supply our body and that nothing made in a laboratory to be packaged as food can substitute nature’s wisdom.
It is extremely important to know and identify the ingredients that are present in the food products that we have been led to believe can be called food. This task is not easy, since most of the ingredients in food products are not naturally occurring. But it is necessary to go the extra mile to learn how and why the food we eat impacts our health and how it can help us or stop us from living and enjoying a healthy life.
Although the number of chemicals used in food products is immense, there are some that are more commonly used and that consequently pose a greater threat to our health. So let’s now concentrate on the list of the most common chemicals that get into the products we usually pass as food.
The name of the first chemical that you want to avoid in your food supply is Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA. This ingredient is a carbon-based synthetic chemical compound used to make consumer goods, such water bottles, sports equipment, CDs, DVDs, resins, line water pipes, food and beverage cans, thermal paper for credit card receipts and many other products. As mentioned in the first article, BPA along with other chemicals, cause endocrine disruptions. That means they are substances with the capacity to interfere with the body’s endocrine system. The endocrine system is the one in charge of regulating the internal secretion and management of hormones such as estrogen.
Endocrine disruptors produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. In humans, endocrine disruptors such as BPA act as mimics of naturally occurring hormones and as a consequence they negatively affect important processes such as cellular metabolism, reproduction, sexual development, sugar and mineral homeostasis, heart rate, and digestion.
Human exposure to BPA occurs through direct contact and with our hands as well as amounts that are shed from products people use to store food. The main problem with BPA is that it has “hormone-like properties”, in other words, it can pass into our bodies as an estrogen mimic. According to Dr. Lori Cooper, BPA is considered as a “foreign estrogen” and as such, it may disrupt “reproductive organ function, bone health, protein synthesis, cholesterol metabolism, mental health, sexual desire and many other systems”.
A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study found that BPA may be a hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children. BPA is known for disrupting thyroid function, increase cancer risk, promote abnormal cell growth, abnormal prostate growth and that it negatively affects the reproductive system as well as sexual behaviour. While government and industry studies say that low amounts of BPA are harmless to humans, studies such as that of INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) show that even weak exposure to BPA “are sufficient to produce a negative reaction on the human testicle.”
But the damages caused by BPA do not end there. This chemical compound is also a concern for its connection to Asthma and heart problems. A 2010 study by a Columbia University research team found that early childhood exposure to BPA may trigger asthma attacks, an outcome that scientists have replicated in laboratory tests. “We saw increased risk of asthma at fairly routine, low doses of BPA,” said Dr. Kathleen Donohue, from Columbia University. “They measured BPA at different ages, measured asthma and wheeze at multiple points, and still found consistent associations,” she added. Despite these findings, researchers say more studies are needed to find a 100% conclusive link between BPA and asthma.
When it comes to heart problems, BPA is also a serious concern. The chemical is linked to heart arrhythmias and reproductive problems in females. According to a report on ScienceNews, BPA’s negative effects have been known since at least 1938. Back then, researchers found that BPA could trigger biological changes normally adhered to estrogen. One of BPA’s main effects on humans, it seems, is that it reprograms fertility genes. “When it comes to the female heart, premenopausal adult exposures may also wreak havoc … there are unique sensitivities to arrhythmias during pregnancy,” says PhD Professor, Scott Belcher, of the University of Cincinnati.
The debate on the effects that BPA has in humans and animals comes down to the levels of exposure both externally and internally. While government and industry studies suggest that low amounts cannot negatively impact people’s health, more recent studies say otherwise. But another caveat on this debate, is whether the measurements made by governments and studies conducted by the food industry are actually measuring BPA correctly or whether exposure to BPA is as small as some studies suggest.
A new study led by Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia has raised an issue that neither governments nor companies that use BPA in their food products want to hear: Humans are being exposed to more BPA than first thought and even low levels can cause harm. Even at small levels of exposure, Vom Saal’s observations determine that BPA appears to be harmful.
A 2010 U.S. EPA study reported that more than one million pounds of BPA are released into the environment annually in the United States alone. Diverse studies have found that BPA “affects growth, reproduction, and development in aquatic organisms”. So the damage caused by BPA is not limited to humans. Freshwater fish are some of the most sensitive species. “Evidence of endocrine-related effects in fish, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles has been reported at environmentally relevant exposure levels lower than those required for acute toxicity,” says a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “There is a widespread variation in reported values for endocrine-related effects, but many fall in the range of 1?g/L to 1 mg/L. That is 1 microgram per liter to 1 milligram per liter of BPA exposure.
Even the slightest suggestion that low level exposure to BPA is in any way a threat to humans and the environment should prompt people, industry and government to stand clear of any use of BPA and similar compounds. Until further testing conclusively determines what so many alternative studies have shown — that Bisphenol A is a threat to human health and that it is one of the many chemicals we should avoid — or that most studies are wrong and we have nothing to worry about, BPA should be banned from all food products as a preventive measure.
In our third part in the series of Chemical Reality articles I will continue showing what science is telling us about the ingredients used by the food industry in food products and how they affect our well-being by biologically accumulating in our bodies through continuous ingestion and / or exposure to them.
For more information on Bisphenol A and other endocrine disruptors, please read through the following literature: