Keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in check, exercising, and eating a well-balanced diet are common tips your physician recommends to prevent heart disease. Now, doctors have a new one to add to the list—avoiding canned soup. Most canned foods and baby formulas, along with cash-register receipts and certain plastics, contain bisphenol A, or BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to a growing list of health problems.
A new study published in the journal Circulation Thursday is the first of its kind to find a direct link between higher BPA exposure in healthy adults and a greater risk of developing heart disease in the future. "This study takes a lot of the question out of, 'Does BPA really affect heart disease risk? Is this is a real effect?'" says BPA expert Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts. "This research suggests so, and it shouldn't be ignored."
In the latest study, researchers looked at urine samples of about 750 initially healthy adults who later developed cardiovascular disease and compared them to samples from 860 adults who remained heart disease free. "They simply looked at urine collections 10 years ago and checked to see if people developed cardiovascular disease within a 10-year period," explains Vandenberg, who was not involved with this study.
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The initially healthy people who wound up developing heart disease had higher BPA concentrations in their urine at the beginning of the 10-year period, compared to those who stayed heart disease free. "If BPA itself is directly responsible for this increase in risk, the size of effect is difficult to estimate," says senior study author Tamara Galloway, PhD, professor of the University of Exeter. "However, it adds to the evidence that BPA may be an additional contributor to heart disease risk, alongside the major risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels."
Many researchers have long believed that BPA's most damaging effects harm developing fetuses because they are more sensitive to hormone-disrupting chemicals than adults. "This study suggests that is not a correct premise," Vandenberg says. "Adults are sensitive to this chemical, and probably other chemicals. There probably is no safe period of exposure."
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The latest research comes on the heels of a lab study published in December in the online journal PLoS ONE that found even small doses of BPA—ones we're commonly exposed to—could lead to heart arrhythmia, erratic beating that could cause sudden cardiac death.
Here's how to slash your exposure to BPA, another way to keep your heart healthy:
• Can it. BPA is one of the most heavily produced chemicals in the world, so it's impossible to completely avoid it. To make a big dent in your consumption, however, cut out as much canned food as possible. The linings in most commercial canned products contain an epoxy BPA resin that leaches into canned soups, baby formulas, and vegetables. For example, a study published last November in the Journal of the American Medical Association found people who ate a can of Progresso soup for lunch experienced a 1,000 percent jump in bodily BPA levels, compared to those who can-free soup.
• Say "no" to trivial receipts. Your skin readily absorbs the BPA coating on cash-register receipts, so when you make a purchase you don't need a receipt for, like, say, a cup of coffee, ask for no receipt when checking out.
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• Go plastic free. Some No. 7 plastics contain BPA, but other plastics contain different harmful compounds, as well. Your best bet is to avoid plastic whenever possible, and never heat plastic in the microwave or clean it in the dishwasher.