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10 Health Lessons Learned

By Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., "What We’ve Learned," July/August 2012

Find out how nutrition science has evolved in the past decade. Here's what we know now—and didn’t then.


READER'S COMMENT:
"Such a well sourced article Karen! It's very interesting to see how the common-knowledge assumptions change over time, thanks for the read! "

6. There’s one more reason to avoid BPA
The synthetic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) has been used in the linings of metal food cans and in hard-plastic containers and bottles since the 1960s. It’s also found in everything from foodstorage containers to recycled paper, the receipt the cashier hands you at the cash register—even dental fillings and sealants. And BPA will persist in our food supply: in March, the FDA rejected a petition from environmentalists to ban the chemical from food and drink packaging.

Science has linked BPA to early puberty, reproductive irregularities and cardiovascular and neuro­logical damage. Now, a growing body of research suggests it may be making you heavier. In the late 1990s, studies revealed that BPA leads to developmental changes in the fat cells of unborn animals that cause those cells to multiply and soak up excess fat. Now experts say it’s a problem for humans, too—a serious concern, since nearly 93 percent of us harbor BPA in our bodies. A 2008 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that people who were obese had 30 to 77 percent more BPA in their urine than normal-weight adults. Experts suspect that BPA promotes weight gain by stimulating the pancreas to rev up its production of insulin, leading to increased blood sugar levels and decreased insulin sensitivity.

“BPA doesn’t just damage the development of one system: the more of it that’s in your body the more prone you are to obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” says Frederick Vom Saal, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri.

The good news is we don’t store BPA in our bodies for long. Avoiding contact with it for just one week will flush it from your blood (it may still be stored in fat, and during pregnancy in the placenta or fetal tissue). While you may not be able to eliminate it entirely, try to buy fresh or frozen foods or foods in cans labeled BPA-free, store food in glass containers or plastic ones labeled BPA-free, and wash your hands after touching cash-register receipts and recycled paper.

Next: 7. How we get our nutrients matters »



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