Your canned soup habit could relate to your heart attack risk, according to the findings of a recent study looking at the chemical bisphenol A's (BPA's) impact on cardiovascular health. In the latest study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers discovered that BPA—a chemical ubiquitous in the environment and found in the liner of most canned foods—overrode the female body's natural heartbeat signaling and caused arrhythmia (erratic beating that could cause sudden cardiac death). "It's really getting at the mechanisms of how BPA could be affecting the heart," BPA expert Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts, says of the study.
In the study, scientists exposed heart tissue to BPA, a plastic chemical that acts like the hormone estrogen in the body. They found that really low doses of BPA could change the way hearts contract and release calcium and, in doing so, interfere with the heart's normal functioning. Vandenberg wasn't involved with this particular study, but says that what's most concerning about the results "is that the most effective doses—the ones that disrupted the heart the most—were overlapping the range of what humans are exposed to. The most dangerous concentrations are exactly the ones we're finding in human bodies."
Previous studies looking at BPA and heart disease found adults who had higher levels of BPA breakdown materials in their urine faced a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
This study's researchers also exposed some heart cells to actual estrogen, which they found caused additional heartbeat-signaling problems. While there's strong evidence that estrogen protects hearts (which is why postmenopausal women with lower estrogen levels see an increase in heart attack risk), the range of estrogen that the heart likes to be exposed to is quite small, Vandenberg says. BPA acts like estrogen in the body, and this study shows that small increases in the amount of estrogen and BPA that hearts are exposed to could be having subtle but serious side effects.
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Although many baby bottle and water bottle makers have phased out use of BPA in their products, nearly all canned-food manufacturers still use the harmful plastic chemical in cans' epoxy liners, which come into direct contact with food. The chemical is also used in many cash-register receipts and in dental sealants. It's a mass-produced chemical, and it's also cropping up in drinking water supplies. "We need to start pushing for chemical reform," Vandenberg said.
Until then, here's how you can drastically cut down on your exposure to BPA:
• Cut down on canned food. BPA levels in different canned foods varies wildly, but a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association detected shocking levels. The levels of BPA in participants skyrocketed 1,000 percent after eating a can of Progresso soup. Dangerously high levels have also been detected in popular brands of kids' soups. Opt for fresh or frozen food as often as possible. Every can you pass up means less BPA in your body.
• Deny frivolous receipts. Some receipts are coated with BPA at levels higher than those found in some food cans. When you're grabbing a coffee on the go or picking up a snack, say you don't need a receipt. For receipts you must keep, store them in a closed container.
• Don't heat up plastic. If you're warming up food, avoid doing it in a plastic container of any type; heat it in glass to keep harmful plastic chemicals from leaching into your food.