Scientists in the UK have called on the government to carry out drug-style safety trials of bisphenol A (BPA) in humans after research suggested exposure to the chemical was linked to increased levels of heart disease.
The study from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, at the University of Exeter, found that healthy people who developed cardiovascular disease tended to have higher concentrations of BPA in their urine.
But the team stressed that the link between the chemical, which is widely used in food packaging, had not been concretely established.
In a measured assessment, the lead scientists said the statistical link between the two had been strengthened and the work provided additional evidence that BPA was a contributory cause of heart disease.
The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation this week.
The continued use of BPA in food packaging such as epoxy can linings has provoked huge debate, with numerous studies suggesting the substance presents a human health hazard. But leading global food safety agencies have declared the substance is safe for use at currently permitted levels.
A decade of data
Previous work from the Exeter team had already identified the link between BPA and cardiovascular disease by analysing two data sets from the US.
The latest research scrutinised people over a 10-year period using data from the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) in Norfolk, UK, a long term population study led by the University of Cambridge.
It examined urine BPA measures from 758 initially healthy EPIC study respondents who later developed cardiovascular disease, and compared them to 861 respondents who remained heart disease free.
The results showed those who developed heart disease tended to have higher urinary BPA concentrations at the start of the 10-year period.
But the research said the extent of the effect was very difficult to estimate given that just one urine specimen from each participant was available for testing at the beginning of the decade-long follow up.
Drug-style testing needed
Team leader Professor David Melzer urged the government to launch a testing programme on the controversial chemical to establish how it behaves in the human body.
“This study strengthens the statistical link between BPA and heart disease, but we can’t be certain that BPA itself is responsible,” he said. “It is now important that government agencies organise drug style safety trials of BPA in humans, as much basic information about how BPA behaves in the human body is still unknown.”
The study’s senior author, Prof Tamara Galloway said even if BPA was directly responsible for the increased risk, the size of effect was difficult to assess.
“However, it adds to the evidence that BPA may be an additional contributor to heart disease risk alongside the major risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels,” she added.
No cause for concern
The British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the research, said yesterday there was no current cause for concern over BPA in packaging.
“We don’t believe there is any cause for the public or heart patients to be concerned by BPA. While this study suggests a possible link between BPA and heart disease, it’s clear that even if there is a link, the risk is very small indeed,” said the body’s associate medical director, Prof Jeremy Pearson. “The saturated fat, salt and sugar in pre-packaged foods are far more harmful than anything you’ll find in the packaging.”
He added that more studies were needed to understand the reasons behind the possible higher risk.
Urinary Bisphenol: A Concentration and Risk of Future Coronary Artery Disease in Apparently Healthy Men and Women b yDavid Melzer, Nicholas J. Osborne, William E. Henley, Ricardo Cipelli, Anita Young, Cathryn Money, Paul McCormack, Robert Luben, Kay-Tee Khaw, Nicholas J. Wareham and Tamara S. Galloway published in Circulation