The food processing world is reeling right now one day after a shocking new series of tests released by Consumer Reports revealed that many leading brands of canned foods contain Bisphenol A (BPA)—a toxic chemical linked to health risks including reproductive abnormalities, neurological effects, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems.
BPA is used in the lining of cans and the toxin leaches from the lining into the food. According to Consumer Reports just a couple of servings of canned food can exceed scientific limits on daily exposure for children.
The federal government is currently studying the dangers of BPA and advocates are calling on the FDA to ban the use of BPA in food and beverage packaging by the end of the year. Companies in other industries, including Wal-Mart, Target, Nalgene, and Babies R Us have already made commitments to stop using BPA.
Consumer Reports’ tested 19 name-brand canned foods, including:
The results were discouraging. Nearly all of the tested canned foods were contaminated with the endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), and this included organic canned foods as well. BPA was even found in some cans labeled “BPA-free”!
- Green beans
According to their estimates, just a couple of servings of canned food can exceed the safety limits for daily BPA exposure for children.
The current US federal guidelines put the daily upper limit of safe exposure at 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight.
However, this limit is based on studies from the 1980s, and does not take into account the findings of more recent animal and laboratory studies, which have found that far lower doses of BPA may still pose serious health risks.
The Worst Offenders
According to Consumer Reports’ testing, the levels of BPA can vary greatly from one can to another, which makes sense when you consider that the BPA leeches from the lining, and a variety of factors, such as heat, can influence the rate of leeching.
In general, canned green beans and canned soups had some of the highest BPA levels of the foods tested. The worst offenders during their tests included:
- Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans had BPA levels ranging from 35.9 ppb to as much as 191 ppb
- Progresso Vegetable Soup had BPA levels ranging from 67 to 134 ppb
- Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup had BPA levels ranging from 54.5 to 102 ppb
BPA and Your Immune System
That low-level exposure to BPA can be hazardous to your health has been established (but hotly debated and denied by industry) for over 10 years. According to Washington State University reproductive scientist Patricia Hunt,
“Exposure to low levels of BPA -- levels that we think are in the realm of current human exposure -- can profoundly affect both developing eggs and sperm.”But fetuses and infants are not the only ones at risk. Researchers are also finding that BPA exposure can affect adults.
There are more than 100 independent studies linking the chemical to serious disorders in humans, including:
As an example, a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives last year, found that BPA promotes the development of Th2 cells in adulthood, and both Th1 and Th2 cells in prenatal stages, by reducing the number of regulatory T cells.
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
- Early puberty
- Obesity, and
- Learning and behavioral problems
This could have a profound effect on your health as Th1 and Th2 are the two “attack modes” of your immune system.
Based on the type of invader, your immune system activates either Th1 or Th2 cells to get rid of the pathogen. Th1 (T Helper 1) attacks organisms that get inside your cells, whereas Th2 (T Helper 2) goes after extracellular pathogens; organisms that are found outside the cells in your blood and other body fluids.
When your Th2 are over-activated, your immune system will over-respond to toxins, allergens, normal bacteria and parasites, and under-respond to viruses, yeast, cancer, and intracellular bacteria, because as one system activates, the other is blocked.
Industry is Putting Up a Fight
Consumer safety advocates are currently calling on the FDA to Ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage packaging. Industry, of course, is fighting back. They dismissed Consumer Reports’ findings above, stating that: “The use of bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings is both safe and vital for food protection.”
Personally, I believe BPA is neither safe nor vital for food protection.
Remember, you’re not just consuming traces of BPA from a can here, and a can there. You’re also exposed to BPA from a host of other sources. Not to mention other chemicals that act in a similar fashion as BPA. When added together, it can amount to a significant amount of damage, especially in children.
What Can You Do NOW?
It’s important to realize that you have a CHOICE, and by exercising it, you can influence industry to do the right thing.
For example, you can avoid canned foods entirely and stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, or switch over to brands that use glass containers. Choosing fresh foods is clearly your best option -- ideally organic (to avoid exposure to pesticides), and grown locally (to reduce environmental impact and help your local economy).