Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical that has become ubiquitous in the environment and may have widespread pathophysiologic effects. BPA is an endocrine-disrupting compound that is believed to act as an estrogenic agonist and androgenic antagonist. The chemical has been linked to such disorders as obesity, hypertension, and insulin resistance, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.

Because the full range of the potential biologic effects of BPA remains unclear, many investigations are in progress. Although more confirmatory studies are needed regarding its biologic effects, it is estimated that greater than 93% of adults in the United States have levels of BPA in the urine, indicating significant exposure.1

BPA is used in the manufacture of certain plastics and resins. It is found in such items as canned foods and beverages, baby bottles, dishware, toys, DVDs, hospital plastics, laboratory equipment, and dental sealants (Table 1). In most cases of exposure, BPA leaches into food and beverages from resin-coated containers and is ingested.

Until recently, BPA was believed to be harmless and has been used in the manufacture of plastics since the 1950s. Because it was known early on that BPA leached from containers into foods and beverages, scientists have been investigating the chemical for many years through animal testing. However, BPA has primarily been examined for its cancer-causing potential and has been found to be noncarcinogenic in the small doses found in food. 

Table 1. Items that contain BPA
Canned food Fax paper
Canned beverages Medical plastics and tubing
Canned liquid infant formula Pacifier shields
CDs Plastic baby bottles
Cell phones Plastic laboratory equipment
Children’s toys Plastic tableware
Coated paper used in receipts Plastic water bottles
Dental sealants Recycled paper products
DVDs White dental fillings
Adapted from:

  1. Roberts R. BPA exposure and health effects: educating physicians and patients. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85:1040-1044.
  2. Groff T. Bisphenol A: invisible pollution. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2010;22:524-529.
  3. Geens T, Aerts D, Berthot C, et al. A review of dietary and non-dietary exposure to bisphenol-A. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012;50:3725-3740.

In the early 1980s, the FDA, National Cancer Institute, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found no convincing evidence of BPA carcinogenicity in the doses found in water or food. By the late 1980s, U.S. production of BPA reached billions of pounds per year and was used in the manufacture of a growing number and variety of consumer goods.2 Once it had been deemed noncarcinogenic, few studies focused on other biologic effects of BPA.

How BPA Exposure Occurs

More than 90% of BPA exposure is derived from food or fluid containing BPA that has leached out from plastic- or resin-coated containers.3 The leaching of BPA into food or beverage is greatest when the container is heated or damaged.

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor