Tuesday, September 20, 2011

BPA, Methylparabens and Tamoxifen...oh my!

We're not in Kansas anymore.

A very troubling study was released last week. San Francisco researchers found that bisphenol A (BPA) and methylparaben, two chemicals found commonly in many consumer goods, are dangerous little buggers for breast cancer survivors. Not only are they believed to trigger some of these cancers, a new study shows that they also help cancer cells withstand the effects of Tamoxifen. In the study, the researchers took noncancerous breast cells from patients at a high risk for developing breast cancer, grew them in a lab and then exposed them to BPA and methylparaben.The formally normal breast cells began acting like cancer cells. Then, the researchers added Tamoxifen to the mix. What happened? One would hope that Tamoxifen would do what it is designed to do and slow down or stop the growth of these cells. Nope. Instead, these cells just kept growing.

The concern for estrogen-positive breast cancer patients like me? According to Dr. William Goodson, lead author of the study, "Since most breast cancers are driven by the hormone estrogen, the bulk of the drugs used to treat breast cancer are designed to knock down estrogen. BPA and methylparaben not only mimic estrogen's ability to drive cancer, but appear to be even better than the natural hormone in bypassing the ability of drugs to treat it."

Scary stuff. If this finding is true, many of us are in big trouble if we don't start eliminating these chemicals from our environment. And it would be naive to expect manufacturers to lead the way. Instead, consumers have to start taking a look at the potential dangers of products they use and finding safer alternatives.

There are a few basic steps you can take right now.
  1. Cut down on your use of canned goods that are not labelled BPA-free. Eden packages all of their beans in BPA-free cans but there are other manufacturers doing this as well. Look at the label. If you can't find BPA-free cans, switch to dry beans. Once you have mastered the technique of cooking them (long soak followed by a long-slow cook) you will be amazed you were ever intimidated by it. And, you'll save a lot of money! Seek out tomato sauces that are sold in glass jars. Look for frozen artichoke hearts or buy the marinated ones in glass. Buy fresh mushrooms...you get the idea.
  2. Research the BPA content of plastic containers you use to store foods and beverages. I was happy to discover that Zip-Loc bags are BPA free! Excellent news since I use them almost exclusively to freeze whole and stewed fruits and vegetables, pesto, salmon and meat. Stop buying bottled water and invest in aluminum water bottles - the marketplace is full of them. My new rule of thumb - when in doubt about how to store something, use glass. I know of people who now take mason jars of soup coddled in knitted cozies or socks to work. Sweet.
  3. Look at the labels of all the creams, lotions and potions you lather and slather on you and your family and eliminate those that contain parabens. Environmental Working Group's site Skin Deep is a great database for researching the ingredient lists of many of the products found in our medicine cabinets, shower stalls, and cosmetic bags. Then seek out products that are paraben-free. This group of products has grown in leaps and bounds, and it is much easier to find simply formulated products today than even two years ago when I first started making the shift.
  4. Keep reading studies. We don't want to follow junk science, so learn to read with a critical eye. But when in doubt, practice caution. Until I read solid research that finds BPA and parabens don't interfere with Tamoxifen, I'll be treating them like something to be feared.
Be well.


  1. Cynthia...all this BPA/paraben stuff is very scary indeed. I am THRILLED to read that Ziplock bags are BPA-free! Thanks for sharing that morsel, and all the others! ;-)

  2. Happy to share, Renn! I'll keep updating more products as I find them. I was very happy to hear about the zipper bags. But I still worry that other plastic components are leaching out. For example, my lock n lock containers have a 5 on the bottom - polypropylene. Not found to leach BPA. BUT, they should never go in the dishwasher or microwave because any degradation of the plastic increases the risk of other chemicals leaching out into our foods. I know they have been in the dishwasher. So, off to the store for more glass ware!

    Hope you're having a great day.

  3. Good grief, this is scary stuff. Every morning when I take my Tamoxifen, I feel like I'm suiting up for battle against any stray cancer cells, even though I no longer have any breast tissue. I'm so glad to read about this study and hope this trend of research continues. I've long suspected that environmental factors play a big role in cancer, and along with genetics, it sure explains why so many young, otherwise healthy, and conscientious women are being diagnosed.

  4. I hear you, pinkunderbelly! I hope industry also starts responding to these studies. Until then, it feels a little like we are fending for ourselves.

    I hope you are well!

  5. I only recently learned about the canned goods connection. It's really unbelievable all the things that we use or consume on a daily basis without realizing they aren't good for us or worse yet, are unsafe. Thanks for this eye-opening post. You're such a great detective.

  6. Hi Nancy! Since I got cancer, I haven't looked at the grocery store the same way. And looking after the health of two boys has made it even more challenging. It is a minefield.

    Thanks for popping by - hope all is well with you.