New Study Reveals That BPA Makes Your Body Store Fat
Scientists have long assumed that bisphenol-A (BPA) is a compound that breaks down safely in the human body. However, frightening new research from Health Canada has found that this might not be the case at all.
A Chemical In Food Packaging
Bisphenol-A is a chemical that is found in most food wrappers and containers, like cans, paper receipts, and polycarbonate plastics. Because it exists in such close contact with our food and skin, this chemical can easily find its way into our bodies. In fact, most people have been found to have trace amounts of the substance in their systems, because of how much they come into contact with it as consumers.
Scientists have always reassured the public that exposure to this chemical has no real lasting effect on the body, but researchers are now saying that our bodies do not metabolize the chemical as well as they always thought it would. Instead, it is now believed that BPA is actually transformed by the body into a compound that might spur obesity.
A Health Canada Study
This study is the first to find that BPA is metabolized by our bodies in such a way that it impacts our cells and contributes to fat growth, instead of being safely metabolized by the liver. Laura Vandenburd, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Massachesetts Amhurst, was of the opinion that the results of this study serve to really highlight the importance of conducting studies before spreading assumptions about chemical additives. “We can’t just say things like ‘because it’s a metabolite, it means it’s not active,” she says.
The implications of ignoring the real health risks of BPA are big. People are exposed to this chemical almost every day, as it can leach from canned goods and plastic storage containers into food. And unfortunately, avoiding BPA isn’t as simple as merely staying away from processed or packaged food. The unfortunate reality is that BPA can be introduced to our bodies through dust in the air and water that has been polluted with BPA-laced packaging. The food market has been so flooded by this synthetic chemical, that it infiltrates huge amounts of what we put into our body.
How BPA Works
When BPA is introduced to our body, within about six hours of exposure the liver metabolizes nearly half the concentration. Most of this (about 80 to 90 percent) is converted into a metabolite known as BPA Glucuronide.
For the purpose of the study, Health Canada researchers treated both human and mouse cells with BPA Glucuronide; the form of BPA that remains in the body after it has been metabolized. The treated cells had “a significant increase in lipid accumulation”, according to the study results. This meant that BPA-Glucuronide was “not an inactive metabolite as previously believed, but is in fact biologically active”, concluded the Health Canada scientists.
The study was published last week in Environmental Health Perspectives, and the results are extremely worrying. “Hopefully this [study] stops us from making assumptions about endocrine disrupting chemicals in general”, says Professor Thomas Zoeller of the University of Massachusetts.
Can’t Our Bodies Protect Us From BPA?
Although the liver is the body’s filter, and protection against chemicals, it can’t always neutralize harmful processed compounds. The body’s metabolism isn’t a mere cleaning process. The liver just takes compounds that it knows to be harmful, and turns them into a form that we can safely filter out of the system. This means that a processed chemical like BPA may be handled by the liver in a way that we couldn’t anticipate. Which, according to the Health Canada study, may be exactly what is happening.
Scientists are not exactly sure what causes BPA to metabolize the way that it does in the body, although they believe it does so by mimicking the body’s estrogen hormones. Zoeller says that it’s possible that the reason for BPA-Glucuronide’s effect on fat cells is because it may be “hitting certain receptors in cells”.
But Can It Be Worse?
While all of these facts seem frightening, the unfortunate news is that this study only scratches the surface on the full impacts that BPA may have on the body. In this Health Canada study, scientists were only looking at one isolated health effect, and Zoeller worries that there could be other ways that BPA impacts the body that haven’t even been considered yet.
Steve Hentges, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, defended BPA by saying that the increased fat cells the researchers noticed had BPA concentrations were “thousands of times higher than the concentrations of BPA-Glucuronide that could be present in human blood from consumer exposure to BPA”. Zoeller agreed the dose was high but “the concentration is much less important than the fact that here is a group testing an assumption that’s uniformly been made.”
In spite all of this, Vandenburg is encouraged that Health Canada even conducted a study like this. “Health Canada is a regulatory body and this is pretty forward thinking science,” she said. “Hopefully this is a bell that can ring for scientists working for other regulatory agencies.”
Bienkowski, B. (2015, May 29). BPA May Prompt More Fat in the Human Body. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-may-prompt-more-fat-in-the-human-body/
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