nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What's Your Take On BPA In Bottles And Cans? A Health Risk?

There are a number of studies showing "effects" but an unclear causal link to "harm."

For those who think BPA is some kind of federal agency or medical test, the letters stand for Bisphenol-A.  BPA has been used in the making of containers for many decades.  It hardens plastics and seals internal surfaces of cans.  Outside of the food and beverage industry it's used in all kinds of products, like sunglasses.

No one has ever suggested that using BPA for non-food uses is harmful.  However, for some experts there is evidence (1) that it increases the risk of cancer and developmental problems in rodents, (2) suggestions that it may be a risk to development in infants, and (3) that most adults have detectable amounts of BPA in the urine.

A word of caution:  many animal studies never translate into risk to humans.  Some do; it's a good way to approach a potential problem...initially.

There is speculation and some evidence that heat and heating food-containers in microwaves (it may just be heat, not microwaves themselves causing the concern)  raise the exposure to BPA by increasing the release of BPA into the contents.

On top of all this squishy language (suggestions, detectable, concern), the federal agencies have issued opinions that don't seem to jive.  Some health officials have said there is no proven harm, the FDA agreed in a report in 2008 that there was no proven harm to humans, but has since decided to re-study the issue, and the National Toxicology Program has opined that there is concern for risk.  The question of regulating BPA quickly became political:  two states banned the use in infant food and beverage containers, Canada has issued more sweeping restrictions, and federal agencies and advocacy groups have produced guidelines for the public to reduce their exposure.

As usual, we are SOTD (Scaring Ourselves To Death) in advance of reliable information on the subject.  Maybe this product does increase risk, but your risk of a thousand other things is almost immeasurably higher (like smoking, and driving).   And, don't expect the advocacy groups to do a study on how many deaths BPA has prevented by giving us non-reuseable containers that reduce the spread of contamination and disease.

Remember all the flap about Alar, the preservative that was used to spray on fruit so its shelf life was extended?  I can still see actress Meryl Streep 25 years ago, at a protest event, agonizing on the shame of it all:  "These are your children!"   The lifetime risk of Alar was eventually pinned down to about one in a million, and experiments that showed a measurable risk had to drink the equivalent of 5,000 gallons of apple juice a year.  How realistic is that?  In any case, Alar was banned.

As with all hazards, it's important to wait for the causative data to surface.  We ain't there yet.  If we start reacting to undefined threats, the fear never stops and we are SOTD.  In the meantime, how about concentrating on those things we know are a high risk to people (like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, auto accidents).  A one percent reduction in harm in these areas would save more people than 10,000 years of BPA exposure would cause harm to.

I welcome any further references to data on BPA (not anecdotes, or statements from activist groups).

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