BPA and PCOS: Is Your Plastic Drink Bottle Contributing To Your PCOS?

By Clare Goodwin

Last updated: September 3, 2020

For years, I’ve believed that toxins like Bisphenol-A (BPA) didn’t really warrant much attention. However, evidence now suggests that there could be a link between BPA and PCOS. Just like global warming, environmental toxin exposure is a real thing (sorry to inform you, Mr Trump), especially for those with PCOS.

I’m a pretty big sceptic and certainly don’t believe in living a life wrapped in cotton wool. I passed off warnings about plastics for a long time. The problem with this was that I actually hadn’t looked at the research – I was making this judgement purely from my own uneducated assumption.

A colleague challenged me on this assumption and I was blown away when I actually looked at the research. Studies have now shown that even low levels of environmental toxins are really harmful for everyone. In fact, they’re very likely a contributing factor (if not cause) of PCOS.

What Is BPA?

BPA is one of the most common environmental toxins that we consume. It is a chemical that is found in several plastics and plastic additives. BPA is found in plastic drink bottles and food containers, including the lining of many canned foods.

It’s been known for decades that BPA has estrogenic activity. In vivo animal studies and in vitro cell-culture research has linked low-level estrogenic activity associated with BPA exposure to a number of health conditions, including diabetes, ADHD, heart disease, infertility, and cancer.

However, we now know that there’s also a link between BPA and PCOS. Not only does BPA have a large impact on PCOS, it may even be a cause of it. One study found that women with PCOS have 30-40% more BPA in their blood compared to women without PCOS. Another study in rats found that exposure to BPA in the womb leads to PCOS development in later life.

The link between BPA and PCOS

BPA impacts PCOS by increasing the amount of androgens in our blood.  It does this in three main ways:

BPA stimulates the ovaries to produce more androgens

PCOS is a syndrome of vast symptoms, but the one thing we all have in common is high levels of androgens, including testosterone. Male pattern balding, facial hair and acne are all caused by excess levels of androgens.

Androgens are produced by the theca cells in our ovaries. Studies have shown that BPA causes these cells to significantly increase androgen production.

BPA binds to cells that it shouldn’t

Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) binds to free sex hormones (like testosterone) to prevent them from roaming free and causing havoc in the body. SHBG is really important for women with PCOS because we have so much free testosterone.

The problem with BPA is that it has the same structure as sex hormones. This means that it can fit onto the receptor sites of SHBG, meaning that testosterone then has nothing to bind to. Indeed, studies have shown that BPA displaces testosterone and androgens at receptor sites, increasing the amount roaming free in the blood.

BPA increases inflammation and overloads the liver

Our liver is the main detoxifying organ in our bodies. It is responsible for excreting toxins and regulating hormone levels. If our liver detects high levels of toxins or hormones then it metabolises them so that they can be excreted in our urine.

Studies have shown that women with PCOS have high levels of both BPA and teststerone. This shows that the liver is unable to cope with high levels of both. These studies have also shown high levels of inflammation markers, suggesting that BPA in the liver causes low grade inflammation.  Inflammation is one of the main causes of PCOS, so more inflammation is very problematic.

How to reduce your exposure to BPA

There are a number of steps that you can take to reduce your exposure to BPA – here are the main ones:

Store food in metal, glass and ceramic containers

BPA-free plastic containers and drink bottles are now widely available. However, a study conducted in 2011 found that BPA-free plastics still release estrogenic activity chemicals into food and water. Some of these bottles actually released more chemicals than BPA ones did!

The study tested 455 commercially available plastic bottles and containers purchased from major US retailers. The bottles and containers were cut into pieces and exposed to the everyday environments we use them in, like leaving them in UV sunlight, microwaving, and dishwashing. Results showed that over 90% of the products released estrogenic chemicals before they were even stressed. After being stressed, nearly all of the products showed estrogenic activity.

I recommend that you buy a stainless steel container for carrying your lunch. I use this Lunchbots one, as well as stainless steel containers for storing food in the freezer. You can also get these glass containers with plastic lids. I’m less sure of these due to the plastic lid, however they’re probably better than any plastic you’re currently using.

Another good investment is some reusable food wrap. This allows you to use your existing bowls in the fridge. I recommend Beeswrap alternative food wrap.

Get a stainless steel drink bottle

This one is really important. A Harvard University study found that people who drank water from polycarbonate plastic bottles had a 69% increase in urinary BPA levels after just one week.

Until recently, I was using the Camelbak BPA-free bottles, however I’ve switched to a stainless steel one after reading this research. I think the gold standard is one with a metal lid, like these by Klean Kanteen.

Buy BPA-free canned foods

BPA is used to line cans for products like chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. A 2013 study found that canned foods contained higher concentrations of BPA compared with foods in glass, paper, and even plastic containers.

Another study found BPA in 71 of the 78 cans it tested. Interestingly, price, quality, nutritional value, and shop of purchase had no bearing on the amount of BPA found in the contents. They also tested two frozen foods and found no BPA. Win!

Unfortunately, some of the most nutrient dense food, such as canned tomatoes, coconut milk, and canned fish are the worst offenders in terms of BPA levels. Some manufacturers are now using a BPA-free lining, however others have begun using non-BPA linings with similarly toxic compounds, such as titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide has been shown to cause inflammation, one of the underlying causes of PCOS.

Summary: BPA and PCOS

If you want to reverse your PCOS then you need to be treating the root cause. For many of us, this isn’t just one thing, like insulin resistance. There are a lot of other factors that cause our excess androgens – environmental toxins, including BPA, is one of them.

BPA impacts PCOS by:

  • Increasing androgens
  • Binding to things it shouldn’t
  • Increasing inflammation and overloading the liver

Reduce your exposure to BPA in the following ways:

  • Keeping your food in metal, glass and ceramic containers
  • Using a stainless steel drink bottle
  • Buying BPA free canned foods — just beware of what’s used instead of BPA