Do you know what bisphenol A is? Bisphenol A is a chemical that’s widely used in the plastics that many of our foods and drinks are stored in. As you may know, bisphenol A is known to upset the delicate balance of our hormones. And now a study that just came out last month is linking bisphenol A levels to the epidemic of insulin resistance and obesity that we’re seeing today – especially in children.
Before I tell you about the study, I need to bring you up to date on an important hormone that you may never have heard of. It’s called adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone that’s made by fat cells. And it’s very important, especially when it comes to sugar control and diabetes. That’s because adiponectin is an insulin sensitizer – it makes insulin work better. When fat cells don’t make enough adiponectin, insulin can’t work well and the initial stages of diabetes begin. But that’s not all adiponectin does. It also encourages the cells to burn fat. A decrease in adiponectin causes a decrease in fat burning and could easily result in obesity. So now let’s look at the study.
The researchers looked at 141 obese children. They were all checked for insulin resistance, blood adiponectin levels, and urinary bisphenol A levels. They also looked at eight healthy, normal weight children and examined the genetics of their fat cells and how they made adiponectin when the researchers exposed their cells to bisphenol A. Here are the amazing and scary results they found.
First of all, the higher the levels of bisphenol A in the urine of the obese children, the lower their adiponectin levels were. There was such a direct association that it was obvious that bisphenol A suppressed adiponectin production. But that’s not all. When they looked at the fat cells from the healthy children, they discovered that the more they exposed the fat cells to bisphenol A the less adiponectin they were able to make. This is startling!
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What we’re seeing here is that a chemical we commonly expose our children to directly shuts down adiponectin production leading to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity. Here’s how the authors of the study put it: “We suggest the involvement of bisphenol A in the development of insulin resistance in childhood obesity highlighting that urinary bisphenol A levels are directly associated with insulin resistance regardless of body mass index [a measurement of obesity]. This association may be explained, at least partly, by the findings that bisphenol A affects adiponectin production in adipose tissue cultures [fat cells].” So where does all this bisphenol A that these kids are getting come from?
Bisphenol A is at the very top of the list of the most highly produced chemicals in the world. It’s in the plastics that we use to store foods and beverages. And don’t think that just because you drink your beer, soda, or water or get your food from cans instead of plastics that you aren’t getting exposed to bisphenol A. That’s because those cans are routinely lined with epoxy resins that contain bisphenol A. And the studies are very clear. The bisphenol A in these containers leaches into the foods and drinks. And that’s not all. Other studies have shown that baby lotion, sunscreen, and all kinds of other products that we apply on our skin that are stored in plastic bottles also contain bisphenol A. There are even studies showing blood levels of bisphenol A in babies from the lotion their mothers are putting on them.
But our FDA is looking out for us, right? Surely they would not allow us to be exposed to unsafe levels of bisphenol A. Not so fast. According to one review paper on bisphenol A toxicity, “Studies in rodents have identified adverse effects of bisphenol A at levels at or below the current acceptable daily intake level for this compound.” The same paper goes on to say, “Although many questions remain to be answered, it is becoming increasingly apparent that exposure to bisphenol A is ubiquitous and that the effects of this endocrine disruptor are complex and wide-ranging.” So what can you do?
Knowledge is certainly the first step. Secondly, it’s critical to remember that the people most vulnerable to toxins in general and bisphenol A in particular are infants and children. But they can affect anyone. So make sure that you don’t buy meats, cheese, fish, etc that are wrapped in plastic, and that the containers of anything you give your child to eat or drink or any lotions are labeled as bisphenol A free. Tell the butcher to wrap your foods in paper. Usually the labels will say “BPA free” since bisphenol A can be abbreviated as BPA.
Next, if you’re having trouble with your weight or with your blood sugar control, you can have your doctor check your adiponectin levels. If they are low, you definitely have to make sure that you strictly avoid bisphenol A. In the very near future, I will be telling you more about adiponectin and how you can increase it if your levels are low.
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Menale C, Grandone A, et al. Bisphenol A is associated with insulin resistance and modulates adiponectin and resistin gene expression in obese children. Pediatr Obes. 2016 May 17.
Rubin BS et al.Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. (2011)