BPA and Gynecomastia: Should You Worry?
If you’re like many people, you’ve probably heard of the chemical BPA, and you might have a vague sense that it could be bad for you. It’s possible you might have even heard of a man boob connection, if you’re a research-oriented guy with gynecomastia. Our New York patients often want to find out everything about their condition, and the cause is usually high on their list. Let’s explore what we know and don’t know.
What is BPA?
BPA stands for bisphenol-A. According to an article published online in 2014 by the National Institutes of Health, it is a widely produced chemical and is found in canned goods, plastics, toys, cash register receipts and many other common items around the world. It is also released into air, water and the earth during manufacturing and processing, says the NIH. The organization notes that around 90% of people in the U.S. and Canada have detectable levels of BPA in their urine (citing additional studies)—most of it thought to come from foods and beverages, secondary sources being products we touch and the air we breathe. In short, BPA is pretty hard to avoid.
BPA is considered to be a xenoestrogen—meaning a substance with estrogen-like qualities that’s produced outside the body. Xenoestrogens found in plants are known as phytoestrogens, and are generally thought to be beneficial in the amounts an average person consumes. The remainder of xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals like BPA.
How is BPA Linked to Gynecomastia?
Another study, published by the National Institutes of Health in 2003, introduces the explanation this way:
Chemicals like xenoestrogens, which can mimic endogenous hormones or interfere with endocrine processes, are collectively called endocrine disruptors.
The study goes on to explain that xenoestrogens bind to receptor areas in the body, such as breast tissue, and can disrupt—by increasing or reducing—the normal influence of estrogen. Hence the notion that high levels of BPA might trigger the growth of man boobs. An article from CBS News a few years ago quoted Dr. Stephen Gilbert, the founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders, saying that BPA “has been linked to a condition called gynecomastia.”
Fortunately, we can provide some reassurance for our New York gynecomastia patients, if a bit “backhanded.” The 2014 NIH article mentioned above suggests that when it comes to BPA exposure, scientists worry most about fetuses, infants and young children. Here’s more:
The growing organism is most susceptible to the negative consequences associatedwith endocrine disruption. Fetuses, infants, and young children thus represent a high-risk group that is exposed to environmental contaminants at higher levels than adults due to differences in diet (formula feeding from bottles), behavior (such as mouthing plastic toys), and metabolic and physiological characteristics.
Studies in mice exposed to BPA around the time of birth found changes in breast tissue in both female and male offspring, “implying that fetal BPA exposure could be a cause of gynecomastia, or the enlargement of mammary tissue seen in males” as well as breast cancer in females.
Therefore, if BPA is indeed the cause of gynecomastia in a New York patient we treat, chances are the damage was done long ago. The 2003 NIH study advances the notion that changes taking place in developing fetuses and young children are “generally permanent, whereas in adulthood, ill effects may sometimes be alleviated if the causative agent is removed.”
What Are Our Recommendations?
BPA and its effect on human health continues to be researched around the globe. A Polish study published four years ago suggests that the chemical has a negative impact on several endocrine functions, including fertility and puberty, and can trigger the development of hormone related cancer of the breast and prostate. Additional research during the last decade in Korea, China and other countries has linked BPA to high blood pressure, obesity, heart problems and more.
On the other hand, early conclusions by researchers participating in a U.S. government-backed project called CLARITY-BPA seem to indicate that BPA at low levels is safe. The project is not yet final, however, and many scientists dispute the finding.
What do we advise our patients in New York? Gynecomastia causes are often very tricky to identify. When guys are taking certain medications, consuming steroids or are obese, we can make educated guesses. But as far as BPA is concerned, the story is just too murky at this point.
We might suggest, however, that if you consume massive quantities of beverages in cans, drink lots of water from plastic bottles and eat food that’s packaged in plastics, you might want to switch to as many fresh foods as possible. They’re healthier anyway. You can also choose glass containers, cook from scratch more often and read labels on the products you buy carefully.
Want to learn more about BPA? An overview and additional resources on the subject are available from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences here.
Want to learn more about gynecomastia? Give us a call at 212-570-6080.