You’ve probably heard of BPA and you may already be avoiding it, especially if you have young kids or are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. In this post, we’ll talk through the science on BPA: what it is, how it can affect fertility and developing babies, as well as how to avoid it.
What is BPA?
Bisphenol A or BPA is a chemical that’s been used in plastic manufacturing since the middle of last century.
What is the endocrine system?
The endocrine system is the part of your body made up of an interconnected network of organs and glands. Among other functions, the endocrine system is in charge of making hormones, which have a crucial function during embryonic development, pregnancy, birth, and lactation.
What does BPA do in the body?
Researchers have shown that BPA can mimic the actions of the hormone estrogen, which during pregnancy is normally released by the placenta. Higher levels of estrogen encourage blood vessel development in the placenta to get nutrients and oxygen to your developing baby. BPA can also have so-called anti-androgenic activity, which means it can disrupt the androgen hormones, such as testosterone.
Because it has these two activities, BPA is known as an endocrine-disrupting compound, and as such, it’s recommended that pregnant people, people who are trying to become pregnant, and small children avoid any food or water that is stored in plastic containing BPA. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of exposures come via ingestion of BPA in food or water. 
Because so much is happening to a pregnant person’s body, it is a particularly sensitive time for endocrine disruption. In a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research, environmental toxicologist Isabelle Plante and colleagues reviewed the known effects of BPA on fertility, pregnancy, and babies.  They write that in some women, high levels of BPA have been linked to lower fertility, as well as to miscarriages and premature birth and issues with lactation. In pregnant mice given BPA in their drinking water, another group of researchers observed disruptions in placental blood vessels and preeclampsia-like symptoms in the animals. 
How to avoid BPA
While researchers have not seen these same disruptive effects in every study, there’s still a good case for avoiding BPA during pregnancy. If you start looking, you may feel like you see it everywhere. Here are some examples of places where you might be exposed to BPA:
- Payment receipts: that smooth grocery store receipt likely contains BPA
- Plastic bottles and food storage containers
- Canned goods: while the outside is usually metal, many cans also have a plastic lining that contains BPA
It’s true that ingesting food and drink that contains BPA might be a problem before and during pregnancy and lactation, but once you know where to look, you can likely avoid it. First, when the grocery store checker asks if you want a receipt, just say, “No, thank you,” and don’t get a receipt when you get cash at the ATM or gas and pay at the pump. If you do get a receipt, throw it away as soon as it is safe to do so and wash your hands. Second, many canned goods now use BPA-free liners and this is often indicated on the label. Have a look the next time you buy something in a can; you might be surprised.
Finally, if you have old food containers or water or baby bottles sitting around, it might be time to replace them. Look for a BPA-free version, or, better yet, use glass or stainless steel. Both are much less likely to introduce any chemicals into your food or drinks. If you must use a food or drink container with BPA, don’t heat it up, as it’s possible that heat will accelerate the leaking of BPA into your food or drinks. There’s no need to worry; by paying just a bit more attention, you can avoid BPA.
- Huang et al. “Worldwide human daily intakes of bisphenol A (BPA) estimated from global urinary concentration data (2000–2016) and its risk analysis,” Environmental Pollution, 2017.
- Plante et al. “Killing two birds with one stone: Pregnancy is a sensitive window for endocrine effects on both the mother and the fetus,” Environmental Research, 2022.
- Ye et al. “Bisphenol A exposure alters placentation and causes preeclampsia-like features in pregnant mice involved in reprogramming of DNA methylation of WNT2,” The FASEB Journal, 2019.