CrossFit, Health and Water Bottles: Is BPA dangerous or not?

The answer to the question “Is BPA Dangerous?” has not been answered yet.  

Most people in the CrossFit community are very health aware.  But there seems to be an interesting complification (new word) with the high value placed on toughness.  For example, eating Paleo is tough.  Good.  Pushing yourself in CrossFit workouts is tough.  Good.  Concern for global warming is not tough.  (wussy topic).  Recycling is not tough (wussy topic).  Concern about endocrine disruption (unless its soy) doesn’t seem to be a tough topic. (wussy topic)  I am writing in Texas.  Maybe its just us. 

Scientific research about endocrine disruption is becoming increasingly politicized.  And  This is a shame.  Research should be rational and independent of wishes, agendas and demands.  Scientists are human, of course.  It can be difficult for people to be completely objective.  That is why scientists undergo many years of training and mentoring before they receive their degrees.  A scientist with a master’s degree and a doctorate will usually have had seven years of schooling after graduating from college. For laboratory sciences, it is standard practice for new PhD’s to undergo an additional 3-5 years of training and mentoring after they graduate.  That’s a lot of training.  And tough to get through.  While it may be impossible for any human to be free of all expectations, emotions and influences of previous experience, scientists are probably as close as you are going to get.

It is disturbing to see scientists under attack by people and organizations who do not like their results or the fact that they are investigating a particular topic or publishing articles describing their findings.  It is disturbing to watch a colleague, or anyone, be the subject of belittlement, condescension, false accusations, misrepresentation or of conspiring to undermine good things like “freedom” or “progress.”  Dr. Michael Baker of the University of California at San Diego has recently been the focus of some pretty unfriendly articles in Forbes and The National Review.   

National Review states: “University of California-San Diego researcher Michael Baker hyped the results of his BPA research in a press release – a press release that Baker himself now renounces (how convenient for him to backtrack after his specious press release generated dozens of terrifying headlines). “

This is the hype:

According to Michael E. Baker, PhD, UCSD professor of medicine, and Charlie Chandsawangbhuwana, a graduate student in the UCSD Department of Bioengineering, several research labs have reported that BPA binds weakly to the estrogen receptor, suggesting that something else is interacting with this receptor.

It is extremely unusual for a scientist to create a press release. It would be unprofessional.  It is, however, standard for University Public Relations departments to do so.  Universities are under high pressure to improve their rankings and increase status.  A major means of doing so is to publicize research done by their faculty.  Communications staff must write the press release in a short easy-to-read format that does not allow for much finesse.   Their job is to get attention for the University.  It was probably not Dr. Baker who created the press release.

Second, the press frequently over-simplifies University statements and scientific papers. Good journalists try not to let this happen.  Good journalism takes time, talent and commitment.  Unfortunately, there is less of a market for good journalism than there is for short, emotional and simple content.  Dr. Baker should not be blamed for this.  He should not limit his research because of how others might present what he does.  I do not see him as having backtracked.  He seems to have simply been honest in conversation with a Forbes commentator.  It is sad to him slammed for his openness.  And for his modeling of molecular interactions.

Its better to understand how things work.  It is better to continue working on a problem (Is BPA dangerous?) than to leave it half answered.  We know that BPA and many other plastics leachates  interact with estrogen receptors.  We know that higher BPA exposure is associated with various undesired health effects.  We don’t know for sure if BPA is the cause of health problems (increased risk of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome etc.) or if its something else.  Like eating too much junk food which tends to come packaged in plastic.  We don’t know how much someone would have to be exposed to suffer an adverse health effect.  Or even if something bad would happen at all.  Until then, let’s keep working on it.  Oh.  And until then avoid plastic packaging.  And plastic water bottles.  Although there is a company that makes certified Estrogen-Activity Free bottles.   They might be your best bet. 

Baker ME, & Chandsawangbhuwana C (2012). 3D Models of MBP, a Biologically Active Metabolite of Bisphenol A, in Human Estrogen Receptor α and Estrogen Receptor β. PloS one, 7 (10) PMID: 23056236

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