BPA May Be Hiding in Your Sports Bras

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Blog, General Wellness

Avoid BPA water bottles. You’ve probably heard this advice a million times.

While it’s true, BPA-containing plastic bottles and containers carry some potential health risks and should be avoided. But it’s not just BPA-containing plastic. Other items may contain BPA.

According to some recent news and petitions, many popular sports bras brands and other athletic wear also contain BPA, much higher than the allowed safe limit. Considering that many of us live in activewear, even when we are not exercising, this may pose a serious health risk. 

I find it important that we talk about BPA more. In this article, you will learn what BPA is, what products may contain BPA, and how to protect your body from BPA exposure.

What Is BPA?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical, primarily used for manufacturing polycarbon plastics. It has been used since the 1960s to make resilient plastic. 

BPA is found in plastic water bottles, food containers, baby bottles, and other plastic bottles and packaging. It is also found in various other products, including eyewear, shatterproof windows, and epoxy resins found in the coating of some bottle tops, metal food cans, and water supply pipes.

All of us are exposed to BPA at low levels. You may be exposed by drinking water from BPA-containing plastic bottles or eating food from BPA-containing plastic containers. Young children may get exposed through oral contact with BPA plastic materials. 

Though food and beverages are the main causes of exposure, some exposure is possible through dust, air, and water. You may also be exposed to BPA-containing sealants through dental treatment. Moreover, workers at BPA-manufacturing plants can be exposed too (1, 2, 3).

Products That Contain BPA 

Products that may contain BPA include (4):

  • Items packaged in plastic containers
  • Canned foods
  • Menstrual products
  • Toiletries
  • Eyeglass lenses
  • CDs and DVDs
  • Household electronics
  • Thermal printer receipts
  • Sports equipment
  • Athletic wear
  • Dental filling sealants

In the US, BPA-containing products are marked with recycling code 3 or 7.

The Problem with BPA

BPA exposure is a real concern, especially when it comes to food that is stored for a long time, such as bottled water or canned tomatoes. It’s also a concern with food microwaved in BPA-containing plastics as it may increase BPA leaching (5). When it comes to clothing, I find it important that we talk about BPA more. In this article, you will learn what BPA is, what products may contain BPA, and certain factors may increase your risk of BPA exposure, including clothing your wear close to your body, clothing you wear for a long time, and clothing or toys children may chew on.

BPA exposure is unfortunately a widespread issue that affects most of us. Researchers found that most people have some level of BPA in their urine (6, 7). This can be an issue even in young children through BPA plastic bottles, toys, clothing, and other items.

BPA is an issue because it mimics the structure and function of estrogen (8). Estrogen is important for the health and function of the reproduction, urinary tract, other hormones, blood vessels and heart, pelvic muscles, brain, breast, bones, hair, and skin. Because BPA can bind to estrogen receptors, it can influence all these areas of your health and affect reproduction, fetal development, growth, cellular repair, and energy. It may also interact with thyroid and other hormone receptors and affect thyroid and overall hormonal health (9).

Are There Safe Levels of BPA Exposure?

Ideally, we shouldn’t be exposed to BPA at all. Unfortunately, too late for that. BPA has been around, and we have all been exposed to a certain level. The next best thing we can do is reduce our exposure and keep BPA exposure at a safer level.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), safe levels of BPA exposure are 2.25 milligrams per pound or 5 mg per kg of body weight per day (10). The FDA claims that most people are only exposed to 0.1 to 2.2 microgram per pound or 0.2 to 0.5 microgram per kg of bodyweight per day. Moreover, the FDA still considers BPA safe in food packaging, though has banned it in baby bottles, baby formulas, and sippy cups for kids (11).

The problem is that if we are looking at research on BPA, even safe levels can result in health issues and increased health risks. Not to mention that the FDA may not be right about average daily exposure either. In the next section, you will learn that your daily athletic wear may be exposing you to high levels of BPA on a daily basis. But before that, let’s get into some specific health issues linked to BPA.

Infertility and BPA

BPA may affect both female and male fertility. It is a chemical that can mimic estrogen in the body. According to a 2020 review published in Antioxidants (Basel), this can increase chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and cellular damage (12). This may lead to a variety of issues.

According to a 2021 mice study published in Chemisphere, chronic BPA exposure may reduce sperm quality and affect male fertility (13). According to a 2011 study published in Reproductive Toxicology, BPA exposure may also negatively impact embryo implantation, including “embryo transport, preimplantation embryo development, and establishment of uterine receptivity” (14).

A 2020 review published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology has also found that BPA exposure may lower female fertility (15). BPA may reduce estradiol levels, decrease the number of healthy eggs, and lower the chance of fertilization. It may also lead to premature aging of the reproductive system in females. Moreover, research has linked BPA to the increased risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, which may impact female fertility (15, 16). 

Fetal Development, Child Development, and BPA

According to a 2020 review published in Birth Defects Research, BPA may also affect fetal health and birth outcomes (17). BPA also passes into the placenta and breast milk, which also increases exposure and related risks. BPA exposure may affect embryonic, fetal, and child growth and increase the risk of birth defects. It may also affect gene expression in utero and increase the risk of obesity and metabolic disease later in childhood or even adulthood. According to a Canadian Health Measures Survey and a paper published in 2015, 93% of 6- to 11-year-olds and 94% of 12- to 19-year-olds have detectable levels of BPA in the urine (18). Even low levels of BPA exposure may be associated with negative health outcomes for children, including behavioural problems. Childhood (environmental) concentrations of BPA have also been linked with anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and inattention.

Chronic Disease and BPA

BPA may also impact cardiometabolic health. According to a 2020 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, due to its hormone-like properties, BPA may affect body weight, fat accumulation, liver homeostasis, cardiovascular health, tumorigenesis, and overall tissue and organ health (19). 

It may also put a lot of stress on the body, which can increase chronic inflammation and damage the mitochondria. This may affect your hormone levels, appetite, and body weight. Chronic inflammation may increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, among other health issues (20). 

According to a 2019 review published in Current Molecular Pharmacology, BPA exposure may also increase the risk of various cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and colon cancer (21). It may also impact the treatment of cancer and may make some chemotherapy drugs less effective.

BPA in Sports Bras and Athletic Wear

When we think about BPA, we often think about plastic water bottles and similar BPA plastic packaging. However, BPA can be found in other products besides our water bottles. It seems like your athletic wear is not safe from BPA either.

Back in October 2022, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sent legal notices to around a dozen brands selling sports bras, leggings, shorts, athletic shirts, and other athletic clothing regarding high levels of BPA in their products. Since then, they have sent notices to dozens of other clothing brands (22, 23). 

After testing, they found their products may expose people to up to 40 times over the safe limit of BPA. According to Proposition 65, a California law enacted in 1986, the maximum amount of BPA exposed to skin is 3 micrograms a day. We are talking about up to 120 micrograms in each clothing item in this case.

Brands tested and having been warned include: 

  • Sports Bras: Athleta, PINK, Asics, The North Face, Brooks, All in Motion, Nike, FILA, Sweaty Beauty, Amazon Essentials, Avia (Walmart), Just Be, Patagonia, Skechers, and Aerie
  • Activewear shirts: The North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance, Reebok, Fabletics, Activ Pro, Beyond Yoga, FILA, Free People, Hoka, Outdoor Voices, Patagonia, Skechers, Soul Cycle, Under Armour, and Xersion (JC Penney)
  • Leggings: Athleta, Champion, Kohl’s, Nike, Patagonia, Activ Pro, Alo Yoga, Amazon Essentials, Outdoor Voices, and Wilson
  • Shorts: Adidas, Champion, Nike, Asics, Athletic Works (Walmart), Hoka, New Balance, Prana, and Xersion (JCPenney)

Testing is ongoing, and we may see other brands on the list soon. You can check back for updates and sign the petition at the Center for Environmental Health here.

Minimize Your Exposure to BPA

Here are my tips on how to minimize your exposure to BPA.

Reduce BPA Exposure in Clothing

Be mindful of your athletic wear. Opt for clothing made from natural materials, including cotton, hemp, wool, and linen, as much as possible. These materials should be perfect for lounging and everyday life. 

If you wear any synthetic materials for more intense activities or competition, pay attention to the composition of the clothing, as found on the label or online. If the clothes are mainly made from polyester, there is a higher risk for high BPA levels. Follow the updates on this recent petition. Avoid brands listed on this list. If the composition is less than 50% natural, the risk of BPA or other chemical exposure is higher.

Clothing that is close to your skin and worn most of the day, such as underwear, socks, bras, t-shirts, and hats, should be low or free from polyester and other synthetics. For babies and young children, completely avoid polyester-rich clothing and materials, especially items that can touch their mouth, including bags, towels, washcloths, soft toys, and socks. Avoid washing polyester-rich clothes with more natural items. Choose organic whenever possible. Conventional cotton and other items may be contaminated with pesticides or dyed with azo dyes.

Reduce BPA Exposure in Food and Beverages

Avoid BPA plastic bottles and containers. If you are buying any water or drinks, opt for glass bottles. Ideally, fill up your BPA-free bottles at home with purified water.

Consume a diet rich in fresh, whole foods, such as greens, vegetables, sprouts, herbs, spices, fruits, and clean animal protein. Reduce the use of packaged foods, especially ultra-processed foods. If you buy any packaged food, make sure it’s labelled BPA-free. Avoid plastic containers and packages marked with recycling numbers 3 and 7.

Avoid microwaving any plastic containers. Ideally, you want to avoid the microwave altogether and use your air fryer, stove top, toaster oven, or oven for cooking and reheating. However, if you do microwave anything, use ceramic or glass containers or plates instead of plastic. Reheating BPA-containing plastics may result in BPA leaching (24).

Protect Your Children from BPA

Be mindful of toys and any items your children may chew or suck on. Ensure that all plastic toys and other items your children may explore are made from BPA-free materials. Ideally, you want to limit plastic toys as a whole. 

As I already mentioned, make sure that their clothing and other cloth items are BPA-free, natural, and ideally organic. Be particularly mindful of their diet as well. Avoid BPA-containing bottles, containers, plates, and utensils.

Next Steps

If you are dealing with any chronic health issues and need advice on how to improve your nutrition and health, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalised guidance. You may book your consultation here

Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.


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