BPA may affect sexual function in adult men, study finds

Consumer Reports News: November 13, 2009 02:35 PM

While the Food and Drug Administration continues to review the safety of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), a new epidemiological study finds for the first time that the ubiquitous substance may well have a serious impact on male sexual function in adults who are exposed to substantial amounts. The men affected worked in factories that manufactured BPA-containing materials and were exposed to relatively high levels of BPA.

Lower levels of BPA exposure are also a concern, and our latest tests found the chemical in just about every canned food we looked at. In that recent investigation, we found that consumers eating just one serving of the canned vegetable soup we tested would get about double what the FDA now considers typical average dietary daily exposure--though that is still far less than the occupational exposures that were noted in factory workers.

BPA is a chemical that can mimic estrogen, and it has been used for years in clear plastic bottles and food-can liners. Some studies have linked exposure to BPA with reproductive abnormalities and a heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Use of the chemical has been restricted in Canada and some U.S. states and municipalities because of potential health effects. An FDA scientific advisory panel weighed in a year ago that the agency's rationale for setting safety standards for BPA was inadequate. A congressional subcommittee determined earlier this year that the FDA relied too heavily on industry sponsored studies.

This latest study—funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and published in the journal Human Reproduction—found that workers in China who were exposed to significant amounts of BPA were about four times more likely to report reduced sexual desire, difficulty having an erection, and reduced satisfaction with their sex lives than unexposed workers. They were seven times more likely to have difficulty ejaculating. And the researchers found these effects were dose-related, so those with greater exposure were at higher risk.

Because the workers at the BPA facilities were exposed to relatively high doses of BPA, the researchers note that, "the findings from this study probably do not apply to populations that are exposed to low levels of BPA." Still, the study is the first piece of evidence that BPA exposure may have a negative impact on human male sexual health, they say, and that finding "increases the need to examine the health effects of BPA in both occupationally and environmentally exposed populations."

We agree, and we hope the FDA seriously reconsiders its safety levels for BPA while such research is conducted. Consumers Union believes that the use of BPA in all materials that come in contact with food should be eliminated. In the meantime, if you want to lower your exposure to BPA, here are a few simple steps:

  • Choose fresh food whenever possible.
  • Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
  • Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.

Kevin McCarthy, associate editor

For more on reducing your family's exposure to BPA and other harmful chemicals, see Plastic Worries. And you can keep up with news about BPA here, and at our Safety blog.

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