These days, it’s all about the switch—we switch to whole wheat breads, we switch to reusable grocery bags, we switch to sustainable products. Often, we switch from plastic to glass, whether it’s for a baby bottle, our personal water bottles, or our water receptacles. New research concerning the synthetic plastic alternative, BPS, has further increased our awareness that reaching for plastic products that say “BPA-free” on the label contain equally toxic chemicals as their regular counterparts.
What We Already Know about BPA
BPA, or bisphenol-A, is a well-known component of some of the plastics that we encounter on a daily basis. It is a known endocrine disruptor, and its metabolites can be found in most of the population’s urine, confirming that we are absorbing it from contact. It is believed to be involved in several disease processes, including some forms of cancers. BPA is found in sneaky places, like lining aluminum cans and in food packaging and wrappers.
It’s lately become standard advice to try to avoid BPA as much as possible when choosing products—but at what price? Some of the switches to glass aren’t feasible, such as in food packaging wrappers, so manufacturers have found workarounds to creating plastic that doesn’t contain BPA; but it contains something equally as toxic. Most BPA-free products contain BPS, or bisphenol-S, and we are still in the early stages of knowing exactly how this compound interacts with us and our environments. BPS was created in 1869 to be used as a dye.
BPS is more light stable than BPA, so it’s an attractive substitute for manufacturers to get around regulations about using BPA. It’s now found in a significant amount of paper products, including envelopes, travel tickets, airline boarding passes, thermal receipts, and airline luggage tags. It shares the same estrogenic activity that BPA does and also disrupts the natural balance of hormones in both men and women, leading to some hormonal-related changes that can lead to cancer.
What We Just Learned about BPA
The new study from the University of Missouri finds that BPA can transfer directly from mother to child via the placenta. It’s pretty obvious that doesn’t help a developing child, but what the researchers found was that BPS is capable of lowering the serotonin level contained within the placenta.
Placentas contain natural and synthetic chemicals that deliver vital neurotransmitters to the developing child’s brain. While the brain is still developing and unable to make serotonin, the fetus relies on the chemicals delivered through the placenta for necessary development. Serotonin is most commonly thought of as a “happy” chemical, but it also regulates so much more. Serotonin regulates emotions and also eating and sleeping.
It’s difficult to know if any of the products we use contain BPS because it isn’t a requirement for companies to disclose this information yet. Hopefully, we will realize that making shortcuts doesn’t benefit our health in the long run, and we can try to create better compounds in the future.
Until then, as we continue to learn more about plastics and plastic-alternatives, try to be aware of the packaging which may be misleading.
Jiude Mao, Ashish Jain, Nancy D. Denslow, Mohammad-Zaman Nouri, Sixue Chen, Tingting Wang, Ning Zhu, Jin Koh, Saurav J. Sarma, Barbara W. Sumner, Zhentian Lei, Lloyd W. Sumner, Nathan J. Bivens, R. Michael Roberts, Geetu Tuteja, Cheryl S. Rosenfeld. Bisphenol A and bisphenol S disruptions of the mouse placenta and potential effects on the placenta–brain axis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020; 201919563 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1919563117