Feeling Anxious? It Could Be Your Plastic

Wednesday Mar 27 | BY |
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If you or your kids are feeling anxious, the chemicals in your plastics may have something to do with it.

Plato is quoted as having said, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” Yet according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older.

Most of us feel anxious about something now and then, but many of us feel the unsettling emotion on a regular basis, enough that it interferes with sleep, blood pressure, digestion, and more. Over the past three decades, anxiety disorders have jumped more than 1,200 percent.

What is making us so anxious? No one knows for sure, but so far, studies have indicated that technology, social media, fast-paced lifestyles, poor diet, lack of exercise, and more are probably all contributing to the problem. A recent study, however, pointed to something we may not have thought about—our plastics.

Study Finds BPA Increases Anxiety

New research from the North Carolina State University found that exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) in early life results in high levels of anxiety. BPA is a chemical used in the manufacture of hard plastics and the coatings of food and drink cans, as well as in some dental sealants and composites, and on cash register receipts. It’s also in a variety of products that surround us everyday, including compact disks, plastic dinnerware, food storage containers, automobile parts, toys, and impact-resistant safety equipment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BPA is already widespread in the human population. After testing the urine of over 2,500 participants aged six years and older in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, CDC scientists found BPA in nearly all the people tested, “which indicates widepread exposure to BPA in the U.S. population.”

In this latest study from North Carolina, scientists exposed rats to low doses of BPA during gestation, nursing, and through puberty. Bood tests showed that the animals exposed to BPA had levels well within the range found in humans. Among those rats exposed to the BPA, both females and males exhibited significantly higher levels of anxiety. The researchers also found gene changes within the brain associated with that elevated anxiety.

In other words, the study showed that BPA changes gene expression in the amygdala, the brain region that plays a role in managing responses to fear and stress, and are associated with behavioral problems.

How Does BPA Do Damage?

BPA is a type of chemical known as a “hormone disruptor,” which means that it mimics the action of our own hormones—in this case, estrogen—so that it throws off the normal hormonal balance in the body.

This isn’t the first study to indicate that BPA can have an effect on our emotions and behavior. In October 2011, research published in Pediatrics found that girls who were exposed to the chemical as fetuses were more highly prone to hyperactive, anxious, aggressive, and depressed behavior than boys of a similar age.

The study authors tested urine samples of 244 mothers during pregnancy and at birth, and then tested urine samples in the children for the first three years. The tests showed BPA in 84 percent of the women’s samples, and 96 percent of the children’s, with results indicating that the higher the BPA level, the more behavioral problems the girls exhibited.

A third study—also published in Pediatrics in July 2012—found that the BPA used in certain types of children’s tooth fillings increased risk for behavioral problems. After a five-year follow-up period, children with the highest exposure to BPA-based fillings scored worse on behavioral assessment tests and had more emotional problems like anxiety and depression than their counterparts. Researchers noted the association was stronger in kids who had the fillings on teeth they used for chewing, suggesting the filling was more likely to break down and allow chemicals to seep out.

The authors noted that more studies are needed, and that we don’t yet know for sure if BPA actually causes these emotional and behavioral issues. Given that other research has linked BPA exposure to thyroid problems, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, and infertility, however, the findings are particularly concerning.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family

With a growing awareness of the potential dangers of BPA, legislators have banned it from some products. California officially banned it from baby bottles and sippy cups in 2011, joining several other states that have also done so. The FDA has failed to require an outright ban on the chemical so far.

To protect yourself and your family, take these steps to reduce your exposure to BPA:

  • Don’t eat or drink from canned foods and drinks unless the labeling states the container is BPA-free—BUT BEWARE. Some companies are replacing BPA with BPS (bisphenol-S), which according to a study by the University of Texas, is also a hormone disruptor. So the container may be BPA-free, but still contain the very similar BPS. Safest bet: Choose cardboard, ceramic and glass containers instead. Look for boxed containers for soups and broths.
  • Don’t microwave foods in plastic containers—use glass, ceramic, or porcelain. Also, don’t wash plastic containers in the dishwasher, as this can break down the components to encourage the release of BPA into your food. Old plastics are also more prone to chemical breakdown.
  • Check the numbers on the bottom of your plastics—1, 2, 4, and 5 are safest, but glass or stainless steel are safer yet.
  • Seek out BPA-free baby bottles, sippy cups, and toys.
  • Look for companies that are making the switch away from BPA packaging—some examples include Eden Foods, Muir Glen, and Nestle Gerber and Similac infant formulas.
  • Use a stainless steel water bottle.
  • Cut back your consumption of packaged foods—choose more fresh items. When you can’t get fresh, choose dried fruit instead of canned, and frozen veggies instead of canned.
  • Ditch the canned meals, like ravioli, pasta with meatballs, and the like. These have high levels of BPA, possibly because their high fat and sodium content encourages leaching of the chemical.
  • Choose an electric receipt, don’t take a receipt, or limit your contact with the receipt and wash your hands immediately afterwards. Avoid hand sanitizer, however, as the Oregon Environmental Council states that it can actually increase your exposure to BPA. Store receipts separately from paper money to avoid contaminating dollar bills.
  • Eat in more often—studies show that those who eat out more often have higher levels of BPA. When you do go out, choose restaurants that use fresh ingredients.

Note: In a 2007 Environmental Working Group study, the amount of BPA in canned goods varied widely. Chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had the highest levels, while condensed milk, soda, and canned fruit contained much less.

How do you reduce your exposure to BPA? Please share your tips.

* * *

“Facts & Statistics,” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

“American anxiety: Why we’re such a nervous nation,” Today, August 20, 2012, http://todayhealth.today.com/_news/2012/08/20/13341239-american-anxiety-why-were-such-a-nervous-nation?lite.

“Factsheet, Bisphenol A (BPA),” CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html.

Heather B. Patisaul, et al. “Anxiogenic effects of developmental Bisphenol A exposure 1 are associated with gene expression changes in the juvenile rat amygdala and mitigated by soy,” PLOS ONE, Sept. 5, 2012, http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/wms-patisaul-amygdala/.

Jaeah Lee, “BPA Makes Little Girls Anxious and Depressed,” Mother Jones, October 25, 2011, http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/10/pediatrics-study-bpa-girls-depression.

Patisaul HB, Sullivan AW, Radford ME, Walker DM, Adewale HB, et al. (2012) Anxiogenic Effects of Developmental Bisphenol A Exposure Are Associated with Gene Expression Changes in the Juvenile Rat Amygdala and Mitigated by Soy. PLoS ONE 7(9): http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0043890.

Ryan Jaslow, “BPA in tooth fillings may boost kids’ behavioral problems,” HealthDay, July 16, 2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57473287-10391704/bpa-in-tooth-fillings-may-boost-kids-behavioral-problems/.

“Reducing Your Exposure to BPA,” Oregon Environmental Council, http://www.oeconline.org/our-work/healthier-lives/pollutioninpeople/solutions/bpa.

René Viñas and Cheryl S. Watson, “Bisphenol S Disrupts Estradiol-Induced Nongenomic Signaling in a Rat Pituitary Cell Line: Effects on Cell Functions,” Environ Health Perspect 121:352–358 (2013).?http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1205826.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. This is very true Plastics, have brought many great things. However, it has created many health hazards too!

  2. This is escellent information!
    Luckily, my son learnt about BPA in his Biology class.

    I have more information here:

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