A chemical used in canned foods and plastic containers could impact the long-term health of newborn babies, finds a new study from the Netherlands.
The researchers collected urine samples from pregnant mothers at various points during their pregnancies and then compared the moms' urine levels of bisphenol A, or BPA, to their babies' head circumferences and rates of growth in the womb. A small head circumference can mean that a baby's brain isn't developing quickly enough; a slow rate of growth can lead to a low birth weight, and low-birth-weight babies are more likely to suffer developmental delays than normal-weight babies.
All the women in the study had levels of BPA that are common in the U.S. population, but the women with the highest levels had babies that grew about 20 percent slower in the womb than women with the lowest levels. Head sizes were also about 11 percent smaller in the moms with the highest exposure levels.
The Truth about BPA
BPA has become ubiquitous, used in everything from food-can linings and receipt paper to polycarbonate plastics and dental sealants. Although the body eliminates BPA relatively quickly, we're exposed to it from so many different sources that most people have constant low levels in their bodies, making total avoidance nearly impossible.
The chemical is known as an endocrine disruptor because it acts like estrogen in the body, but researchers are finding that its impacts are more than just hormonal. Recent studies have tied it to increased asthma rates in children and to genetic changes that can impair a child's neurological development.
While the Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of BPA in products aimed at children, such as baby bottles and sippy cups, those bans do little to protect children because, as this study shows, much of the damage BPA causes occurs when babies are still in the womb. And the rampant use of BPA in adult products leaves pregnant women and the fetuses they're carrying vulnerable.
You don't have to feel totally helpless if you are pregnant. Here are a few ways to keep your BPA exposures to an absolute minimum:
• Kick canned food out of your kitchen. The linings contain BPA. Opt for fresh or frozen foods and those packaged in aseptic cartons.
• Pay in cash…or ask for no receipt. The thermal papers used to print receipts are coated with BPA or with a very similar chemical called BPS. Both BPA and BPS are endocrine disruptors, so decline receipts whenever you can.
• Go plastic free. Avoid #7 polycarbonate plastics, especially if you're storing food or drinks. Instead, opt for containers made of glass, food-grade stainless steel, or ceramic.