COLUMBIA - A new study links a chemical commonly used in baby bottles and soda cans to increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. The study is the first to test the effects of Bisphenol A, or BPA, in humans.
Urine tests of 1,455 adult Americans found that those with the highest levels of BPA were more than twice as likely to suffer from diabetes or heart disease, according to the study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Liver abnormalities associated with high BPA amounts were also found by the team of University of Exeter, UK, and University of Iowa scientists that conducted the research.
The findings were accompanied by an editorial co-authored by leading BPA scientist and MU biologist Frederick vom Saal. The editorial lauds the new study as "the first major epidemiological study" on the effects of BPA. Vom Saal insists in the article that more research is needed, but that "further evidence of harm should not be required for regulatory action to begin the process of reducing exposure to BPA."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, hasn't changed its mind about BPA. Amounts of BPA presently found in food cans and hardened plastics are safe, according to a draft report released on Aug. 14 by the FDA and discussed at a meeting on Tuesday.
Critics, however, say the FDA's position puts lives at risk.
BPA, an estrogen-like chemical, lines cans and is used to create polycarbonate plastics. Many common food containers expose adults to BPA every day. A 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found BPA in 93 percent of urine tests of Americans, with the highest amounts of BPA in children. The FDA says that infants have become exposed to BPA in plastic baby bottles and canned formula. The FDA insists that the public need not worry about BPA, citing two rodent studies that the agency said were more reliable than previous studies.
"This agency is broken," said vom Saal, who has studied the effects of BPA since 1997. He did not author the new study, but earlier research conducted by him and his colleagues on animals found that BPA caused changes in the brain and prostate abnormalities linked to prostate cancer.
Vom Saal said he expected the new findings on BPA and heart disease because his research has provided evidence of the risk the chemicals pose to consumers. He added that the U.S. has experienced a rise in diabetes and heart disease as the use of BPA has increased. BPA mimics estrogen, and high levels of estrogen in the body increases the body's sugar production, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease, vom Saal said.
Vom Saal on Tuesday harshly criticized the FDA in his testimony to its Science Board subcommittee investigating the potential dangers of BPA. He called the FDA's science flawed and dangerous to the public.
"The FDA is supposed to be protective of the health of Americans before people start dying of a chemical, not afterwards," vom Saal said in an interview Wednesday.
As a leading scientist on BPA and a consumer, vom Saal said he avoids plastic and canned foods. He warned that research shows heating foods in plastic containers allows BPA to leach into food, which is how many babies become exposed to the chemical when bottle-fed. Companies have already begun to provide alternatives, such as BPA-free baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles.
Canada's health minister proposed regulations in April to limit BPA in products sold in Canada and to ban it outright in baby bottles.
"Although our science tells us exposure levels to newborns and infants are below the levels that cause effects, it is better to be safe than sorry," Health Minister Tony Clement said in a statement earlier this year.
The American Chemistry Council studies on BPA deem it safe, and the council chastised the new study on its Web site as limited and incapable of showing BPA causes any disease.
"This is tobacco all over again," vom Saal said. "The evidence out there that this is unsafe is strong enough."