By Steven Reinberg
TUESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics that include baby bottles and packaging for food and beverages, may put people at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, a new study concludes.
Adding to the controversy surrounding this ubiquitous chemical, this study fuels the fears of those who want it banned. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in April that BPA was "safe and that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects."
The research, published in the Sept. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was released early to coincide with a public hearing the FDA is holding on the issue Tuesday.
According to one expert, the study is suggestive, but not conclusive. "I am really torn here, because I really believe that BPA has some concerns, but this paper does not prove that," said Dr. Hugh S. Taylor, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine.
"It's sort of classic guilt by association," Taylor said. "The correlations are there. There is more diabetes and more heart disease in people with more BPA, but people who are eating a lot of things out of cans and water bottles are going to have higher BPA in their urine, and they're probably not eating the healthiest diet, so you might expect them to have diabetes and heart disease."
Ahead of the hearing, the Consumer Federation of America released a statement calling on the FDA to act decisively in dealing with the potential hazards of BPA.
"While scientists continue to assess the health risks of BPA to consumers, the FDA is taking on a bigger risk by taking no action to protect the health and safety of consumers. Consumers expect to buy products that have a proven safety record, not a lack of proven harm," Rachel Weintraub, the federation's director of product safety and senior counsel, said in a prepared statement. "Too many examples of potential risks today become tomorrow's hazardous reality. FDA should not take that gamble in the face of mounting evidence of harm."
In the study, led by Dr. David Melzer, of Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, in the United Kingdom, researchers looked at the association between BPA and heart disease and diabetes among 1,455 adults who participated in the 2003-2004 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Melzer's group found people with high levels of BPA were more likely to have heart disease, including heart attack, or diabetes. In fact, high levels of BPA increased the risk for these diseases by 39 percent, the researchers reported.
In addition, higher BPA concentrations were associated with abnormal concentrations of three liver enzymes.
"There are real problems with BPA use," Taylor said. "BPA is an estrogen-like endocrine disruptor. Clearly, from the animal data, there is reason to believe the BPA is hazardous to the fetus if taken during pregnancy. I think it's worth being cautious and at least trying to keep women who are pregnant away from BPA," he said. "With adult exposure, it is less certain that there is any adverse effect."
Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York, noted that he has shown that these very same diseases are associated with PCBs, dioxins and chlorinated pesticides.
"I have a strong suspicion that BPA is doing exactly the same thing," he said. "I have been arguing that BPA should be banned for a long time just on the basis of its effect on endocrine systems. The industry reports that argue that it has no adverse effects are simply wrong," he said.
There is nobody who is not exposed to BPA, Carpenter added. "The problem in our society is that we are all exposed to this mixture of chemicals, and which ones are responsible for disease is difficult to determine. This is really an important new observation," he said.
The American Chemistry Council thinks the link between BPA and heart disease and diabetes is tenuous. "While scientific study continues, the public should be reassured by the FDA's own recent review of bisphenol A," said Tiffany Harrington, the council's director of public affairs.