The fear of exposure to the common chemical in plastic, Bisphenol A (BPA), has been steadily growing over the last few decades. But a recent study suggests it's more of a threat to women’s heart health than men's. A research team from the University of Cincinnati studied how BPA affected male and female mice differently, and published their findings in the journal Endocrinology.

"The results of this study find heart and blood pressure effects in male and female mice, with females seemingly at greater risk for harm," said the study’s lead researcher Dr. Scott Belcher, professor of pharmacology and cell biophysics at the University of Cincinnati, in a press release. "We used an isoproterenol model that in some ways mimics damage that can occur during a heart attack. For female mice exposed to BPA there was a severe increase in the sensitivity to cardiotoxic damage. This effect was especially striking because females are typically protected."

Researchers exposed male and female mice to BPA and then used isoproterenol, a drug that mimics the effects of a heart attack by causing scars and other damages to the heart muscle, to see how their little hearts handled it. It turns out females were at much higher risk for stress-induced damage compared to untreated female mice.

"The overall aim of the study was to determine whether there were effects of BPA on cardiac function," Belcher said. "We chose a very specific and broad range of BPA exposures that span levels below those considered safe in humans up through a high dose that nears the no observed adverse effect level, an approach aimed at make the findings useful for assessing public health risk."

Both male and female mice showed changes in their blood pressure and heart rate, however a female’s heart couldn’t handle BPA exposure as well. "The reality is everything from what we have seen from this study and a number of previous studies suggests that BPA likely worsens heart health in women, who have unique risks compared to men," Belcher said.

How To Decrease BPA Exposure

BPA has been used to harden plastics for more than 40 years, and is found in a wide variety of packaged foods. It’s in anything from medical devices, to water bottles, and the lining of canned foods, drinks, and other products. It’s omnipresence in everyday products makes it difficult to avoid, with more than 90 percent of Americans having BPA in their bodies at this very moment. For years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said BPA was a safe product, but in 2010 it changed its stance and has increased the number of studies being conducted to figure out toxicity levels and what long-term exposure will do to humans. Past studies have linked BPA, which interferes with the female hormone estrogen, to neurological defects, diabetes, and breast and prostate cancers. Studies continue to unravel what exactly happens to the body.

It’s difficult to navigate the world without bumping into BPA somewhere in the grocery store, a restaurant, or even a child’s toy box. Nearly every single person is exposed to the chemical everyday, making it potentially dangerous to constantly be exposed to, especially when its health effects aren’t fully understood. Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are the most vulnerable out of everyone, and this new study warns women of the threat it could have on their heart health.

A few easy to keep in mind rules will automatically lower your BPA exposure. Skip canned goods whenever possible. The plastic lining inside a can of string beans, tuna fish, or soup allows the metal to leach into your foods. Speaking of leaching, don’t microwave plastics. Bringing your lunch to work in a Tupperware or other type of plastic container and then nuking it in the microwave is a quick way to get exposed to BPA. “Microwave-safe” doesn’t mean it’s BPA-free. In high temperatures, the plastic will leak right into whatever food you’re eating, which is why it’s smarter to just use ceramic or glass containers when heating up food in the microwave.

Look for BPA-free labels if all else fails. Buy BPA-free water bottles for yourself and your child. The chemical used to lurk in baby bottles and sippy cups until the FDA banned BPA in 2012, due to the well-documented risks it has on children. Unfortunately, something that isn't BPA-free is receipt paper. Those slips of paper printed out at cashiers and ATMs are lined with BPA, and they're absorbed through your fingertips. Say no to the print out in order to avoid exposing the cashier and yourself. Or, if you must, place it in an envelope and wash your hands after touching it, especially if you’re a woman.

Source: Belcher SM, Gear R, Kendig EL. Bisphenol A Alters Autonomic Tone and Extracellular Matrix Structure and Induces Sex-Specific Effects on Cardiovasular Function in Male and Female CD-1 Mice. Endocrinology. 2015.