Could your water bottle be putting your health at risk?
By Judy Torel
Go into any gym across America and you will see a plastic bottle of something liquid within arm’s reach of almost everyone there.
What is in that bottle has been a source of debate in the health world. I’m not talking about if diet soda is healthy even though it has no simple sugars and no calories or the old debate of bottled water vs. tap water. This debate is even more compelling and receiving widespread attention: Is the plastic bottle you are drinking from a health risk?
What is in plastic water bottles?
Clear, lightweight and unbreakable plastic water bottles became all the rage in 2000 when Nalgene, a company that manufactures reusable water bottles, came out with cool colors in a reusable style water bottle. The concept that bottled water is healthier than tap was already fully manifested. So people around the country started carrying either reusable water bottles that they bought and filled on their own or they bought a bottle of spring water and then just refilled it over and over again.
Polycarbonate, one of the plastics used in the manufacturing of those re-usable water bottles that are great because they are hard and they keep their shape, contains a component called bisphenol A (BPA). The problem is that BPA acts as a xenoestrogen in the human body. A xenoestrogen is something that acts just like estrogen in the human body, but it is foreign to the body and it is harmful to both males and females.
There are different types of plastic water bottles and some are riskier than others. In 1988, the plastics industry came up with a number system to help recyclers separate different types of plastics. If you look toward the bottom of your water bottle you will see a recycle symbol (triangle) and in the center or to the right will be a number.
The number 7 is comprised of a mixture of plastics that can’t be recycled and may contain BPA’s, thus causing the most controversy right now. Plastic bottles with the number 1 on them are not made for re-use and are more susceptible to a build-up of harmful bacteria. They don’t contain BPAs, but they should not be used more than once.
BPA’s are not just found in plastic water bottles. They are a component in children’s sippy cups and are used in the linings of canned foods and canned sodas. These items are not labeled with a number 7 on them, but the BPA’s are there.
What do BPA’s do in the human body that makes them bad?
Animal studies that were conducted in the late 1990s demonstrated that endocrine disruptors like BPA’s can impair the reproductive systems of rats and mice, can reduce sperm counts and can cause changes in breast tissue that resembles early stages of breast cancer. Estrogen mimickers also were affiliated with abnormal behavioral changes and changes in brain cells and receptors in the rodents. BPA’s are also linked to increased risk of hormonally-related cancers (like prostate and breast cancer), diabetes and obesity.
The argument is, just because these were findings in animal studies does not mean that they would have the same result in humans and so far there are mixed results in the human studies. Because of this, scientists have determined that those most at risk from BPA’s are pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, infants, young children, adolescents and people with compromised endocrine systems. These populations especially would be well advised to minimize exposure to BPA’s, although everyone may want to rethink the use of BPA containers.
What are the alternatives to BPA leaching containers?
Plastic bottles that are most desirable for re-use are those that are made from polypropylene and say #5 PP on the bottle. Plastics that are labeled #2 HDPE are made from high-density polyethylene and #4, low-density polyethelyne, and are also safer to use because they do not contain BPA’s.
Several companies are making BPA-free products now. Eden Foods uses cans that aren’t lined with the epoxy resins containing BPA’s. Imagine and Trader Joe’s are two companies that make soups and other food products that are in aseptic (shelf stable) cartons as opposed to resin-lined cans.
Purchasing tuna or salmon in the pouches instead of cans and purchasing fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned will lead to reduced BPA exposure.
Nalgene, the company that manufactures the #7 re-usable water bottles, is switching to BPA-free alternative components due to the growing concern that BPA’s may be harmful to humans.
If you are using #7 re-usable water bottles, do not put them in the microwave or wash them with hot water. These practices cause the bottles to break down and the BPA’s to more readily leach into the liquids and foods they hold.
Additionally, you should avoid putting any plastic containers into the microwave for the same reasons. Instead, purchase ceramic or glass containers for microwaving and consider a glass water bottle for the gym.
Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. She conducts online services through her website www.judytorel.com. Her office is located in Planet Fitness, Loudonville. She is also a competing triathlete who is currently training for Ironman, Florida.