2012-02-11 Food vs. Fertility, Part I: Bisphenol A (BPA)

Chemical structure of BPA

Chemical structure of BPA

A host of manufactured chemicals in the food and water supply is wreaking havoc on our health. One common characteristic among the effects of many of these substances is a decrease in fertility, accompanied by a rise in afflictions affecting the reproductive system. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is one such hormone-disrupting chemical that has been identified as a cause of a global decline in fertility that some scientists currently refer to as a "fertility crisis." Meanwhile, most national governments have failed to adequately curtail the use of BPA and other toxins. Some believe that this neglect is the deliberate continuation of a century-old eugenics program that has now extended to what are perhaps the greatest sources of human vulnerability: the food and water we consume and the air we breathe.

Mass-produced since the 1950s, the industrial compound BPA has been called an "everywhere chemical." Recent reports show that, in 2006, more than 4 million tons of BPA were produced annually worldwide, 25% of that in the U.S. Used to harden plastics and line tin cans, BPA is found in everyday items such as plastic food and beverage containers, food and drink cans, baby bottles, mobile phones, eyeglasses, compact discs and cases, plastic wrap, plastic utensils, dental fillings, and more. High levels of it have also been found in 40% of the cash register receipts from businesses including Mc Donalds, Chevron, Walmart, and the U.S. Postal Service. One study found significant levels of BPA in 46 out of 50 grocery store cans. From these products BPA readily leaches into food and beverages, and then into human consumers; it has been shown to be absorbed into the body by ingestion and through the skin and lungs. Measurable amounts of it have been detected in tap and river water, as well as in the air. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has discovered BPA in the urine of 93% of Americans tested; the chemical is estimated to exist in more than 90 percent of all people.

Belonging to a class of chemicals called "endocrine disrupters," BPA can mimic the body's natural hormones or interfere with how the body processes hormones. Imitating the female sex hormone estrogen, BPA has been shown to cause early puberty and "gender bending," alter breast tissue, and damage sperm. BPA and other endocrine disruptors including the artificial sweetener aspartame, fluoride (which is widely added to tap water), and genetically-modified (GMO) foods have been found to alter long-term hormone response and damage the reproductive system. Hundreds of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to such substances can cause male and female infertility, miscarriages, gender confusion, breast and prostate cancer, and drastic decreases in birth rates and sexual activity.

Numerous research studies have shown that BPA ravages the reproductive system. A Harvard-University of Michigan study revealed that men with the highest exposure to BPA had sperm concentrations 23 per cent lower than others, as well as a 10 percent increase in sperm DNA damage. Scientists from Kaiser Permanente recently found that BPA reduced not only sperm count, but also killed sperm or reduced its quality, causing impotence and infertility. According to the study's lead researcher Dr De-Kun Li: "Compared with men without detectable urine BPA, those with detectable urine BPA had more than three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality, more than four times the risk of a lower sperm count, and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility." An animal study discovered that male mice exposed to BPA behaved like female mice; and female mice were only half as interested in BPA-exposed males as they were in non-exposed males. The chemical is also said to damage the eggs and other reproductive organs of females. Even low levels of BPA reportedly cause genetic defects that are reportedly passed down to later generations; animal trials indicate that the children and grandchildren of those exposed to BPA also experience reproductive disorders.

A variety of hormone-related health problems are now linked to the chemical. Researchers have tied BPA exposure to the recent rise of early puberty among girls. It is thought that the rise in breast cancer rates, which have roughly tripled in the past 50 years, is partially attributable to widespread exposure to BPA, which appears to cause the disease in laboratory animals and to reduce the effectiveness of breast cancer drugs. Similarly, human prostate cancer rates, which rose 85% from 1975 to 2002, are thought to be increased by BPA, which has been shown to increase the risk of this cancer among males who were exposed to the chemical during infancy or in the womb. Additional animal studies have found a causal chain between BPA and heart disease and heart attack, diabetes, obesity, hyperactivity, anxiety, and other afflictions.

Exposure to BPA and other endocrine disruptors is thought to have led directly to a current infertility crisis. Said one researcher: "Evidence has indicated that for the past few decades, sperm counts have been declining in some human populations — and that this might be related to exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA is very reasonable." Scientists note that human sperm counts have dropped by about 50% in the past 50 years, accompanied by high infertility rates. As many as 20% of healthy men from the ages 18-25 produce abnormal sperm counts, with only 5-15% of their sperm qualifying as normal. Researchers recently estimated that almost one-third of Danish men are subfertile. The problem has become so pronounced that some scientists are calling the male infertility epidemic a "public health issue" that is "as important as global warming" and could indicate total male sterility within several generations. Eight million U.S. couples are said to experience infertility, which many now believe begins with pre-natal exposure to environmental hazards. Despite BPA's ubiquity, most likely it represents only one contemporary source of concern; for instance, endocrine disruptors found in Monsanto's GMO food (introduced on the market during the 1990s) have been found to cause animal infertility, miscarriages, high infant mortality rates, and near-complete sterility in animals after three generations.

The U.S. and some other governments have responded mildly to this public health threat. In 2008 a program within the U.S. National Institutes of Health indicated "some concern" about BPA's deleterious effects on childhood development. At first stating that BPA is safe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) later reversed its position after receiving criticism for having relied largely on data obtained from studies funded by chemical manufacturers. Although now expressing some consternation regarding BPA's effects, the FDA has done little to reduce human exposure to the substance. Researchers have stated that human intake levels of BPA that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency characterizes as "safe" are in fact hazardous. The U.K.'s Food Standards Agency avers that BPA is not harmful, although Elizabeth Salter Green from the Chemicals, Health And Environment Monitoring Trust pointed out: "There are now hundreds of research papers that indicate BPA is not good for our health, linking exposure to fertility problems, cancer, diabetes and obesity." However, the U.S. government has noted in return: "Today there exist hundreds of different formulations for BPA-containing epoxy linings"; and that the chemical's prevalence would make the chemical's removal from the market a long and arduous process. Another difficulty appears to be the fact that, although more than 100 government studies found adverse effects, about a dozen did not. However, some posit that this could result from a failure to take into account the facts that some strains of lab animals appear impervious to BPA, and that males and females react differently to the substance. There have also been assertions of conflicts of interest. For instance, one government study was allegedly directed by an outside contractor that has worked for "at least 50 industrial firms, including BPA manufacturers Dow Chemical and BASF."

Certain others suspect that motives more macabre than mere greed or bureaucratic inertia underlie governments' failure to act on the demonstrated harm of BPA and other hormone disruptors. Pointing to a long history of eugenic practices, some believe that widespread exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals -- and the resulting mass reproductive damage and infertility crisis -- merely represents an extension of more than a century of programs deliberately aimed at reducing fertility, especially among targeted populations. One media organization recently circulated a 1969 Planned Parenthood memo appearing to support some of these fears; the document, written by Planned Parenthood Vice President Frederick S. Jaffe, suggests reducing global fertility by, among other means, adding contraceptive substances to the water supply, discouraging marriage, encouraging homosexuality, and providing for forced abortions.

The U.S. government's long history of secret and forced sterilization is well-documented, as is its support of Nazi eugenics programs. For generations it has also implemented other eugenics measures -- such as the Cincinnati Radiation Experiments and syphilis experiments in Tuskegee and Guatemala -- often disguised as scientific research. Some have alleged that, as recently as the 1990s, an ostensible World Health Organization-Rockefeller tetanus vaccination program in Central America and the Philippines was in fact intended to secretly study the effectiveness of inoculations in coercing abortion. The International Planned Parenthood Organization was itself allegedly created as a sub-group of England's Eugenics Society. World leaders have long focused on the mechanics of population control and depopulation. A 1975 National Security Council report on the dangers of overpopulation asserted that "mandatory programs may be needed and ... we should be considering these possibilities now." Only three years ago, a U.N. Population Division policy brief asked: "What would it take to accelerate fertility decline in the least developed countries?" Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who encouraged UN involvement in population control measures, was supposedly so preoccupied with contraception that he gained the nickname "Rubbers."

Others view as significant the fact that John Holdren, who serves as President Barack Obama's advisor for Science and Technology and White House "science czar," has long advocated population control -- by force, if necessary. A proponent of both zero economic growth and zero population growth, Holdren has promoted a decline in fertility far below replacement level. During the late 1970s, Holdren co-authored a book, Ecoscience, that presented a number of possible solutions, both voluntary and coercive, to a perceived overpopulation crisis. Some of these proposals included adding sterility-inducing chemicals to the water supply, injecting sterilizing implants into young females (removable "with official permission, for a limited number of births"), and implementing a program of compulsory abortions, particularly among those who had had several children or were deemed to contribute to "social deterioration." As the authors of Ecoscience queried: "... no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?” Much of this is typical eugenics theory, but Ecoscience adds its own twist by also proposing an armed, UN-based "Planetary Regime—sort of an international superagency" or "global ... police force" that would oversee distribution "of all natural resources" and enforce fertility-control measures. In the face of later criticism, Holdren and his co-authors, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, have since described Ecoscience as nothing more than a "textbook"; Holdren's staff has reportedly stated that he does not promote forcible sterilization. Nevertheless, Ehrlich has written in another publication: "[We need] compulsory birth regulation... [through] the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size." Both Holdren and Ehrlich have consistently expressed Malthusian viewpoints throughout their careers.

In actuality, the UN has projected that the world population growth has passed its peak and "the twenty-first century is expected to be one of comparatively slower population growth than the previous century ... characterized by declining fertility and the ageing of populations"; in fact, some view underpopulation as a longer-term problem than overpopulation. Within the U.S., the role that BPA and other endocrine-disrupting agents have played or will play in the infertility epidemic has yet to be officially addressed.

While the U.S. federal government wavers on the issue, Canada has declared BPA to be a toxic substance, and EU countries recently banned its use in children's food and drink containers. At least 10 states in the U.S have passed legislation for similar BPA bans. Many manufacturers of baby bottles and other plastic bottles have halted BPA use in their products. Food and beverage manufacturers including Nestlé, Heinz, Campbell Soups, and Coca-Cola have stated plans to change the chemical content of their food packaging to eliminate BPA; and Appleton Papers, the largest thermal paper manufacturer in the U.S., removed the chemical from its products. The American Medical Association has issued a statement “recognizing BPA as an endocrine-disrupting agent and urging that BPA-containing products with the potential for human exposure be clearly identified.” Senator Dianne Feinstein of California suggested passing laws that would require companies to prove that chemicals they use are safe for the food supply, before they can enter the marketplace. Noting that not all plastics disrupt the endocrine system, University of Texas neurobiologist George Bittner believes in the possibility of developing less-toxic plastics.

As the gears of science and government grind slowly toward a solution to this toxic problem, people are encouraged in the meantime to take steps to help protect themselves from BPA and other endocrine disruptors by avoiding food and beverages packaged in cans or plastic, refusing or discarding (not recycling) receipts, and storing food and drinks in glass or stainless steel containers. Studies have shown that a strictly fresh-food diet can reduce human BPA levels by at least 60% after just 3 days. And increased consumption of zinc, ascorbic acid, calcium, and protein has been repeatedly shown to halt, or even reverse, reproductive damage caused by the hormone disruptor fluoride. Some swear by the benefits of probiotics. Consumers can also contact companies and request that they remove BPA from their products.

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