Studies: BPA Lingers in Bodies, Mercury Found in Common Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup

Studies: BPA Lingers in Bodies, Mercury Found in Common Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup

New studies have found that bisphenol A lingers in the human body longer than previously expected and that mercury has been found in many common brand name food and drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup.

Researchers at New York's University of Rochester say that bisphenol A (BPA) - a chemical found commonly in hard plastic bottles, food storage containers and a wide swath of other products - leaves the body about eight times more slowly than expected.

The study looked at urine samples of 1,469 U.S. adults, checking their levels of BPA based on how long it was since the subjects last ate. BPA has been thought to be fully eliminated from the human body within 24 hours of ingestion, with half of it being metabolized between four and six hours. However, the research found that the level of BPA present dropped up until eight hours, then leveled off and did not go away. In many cases, subjects who fasted for 15-24 hours had only moderately lower levels of BPA than subjects who ate more recently.

The researchers say that could mean people are being exposed to BPA from non-food sources or that BPA is not being metabolized quickly. BPA can leach from containers into food and drink, then pass into people when they consume those items. The researchers also say it's possible BPA is getting into people's bodies through other means of exposure, such as dust from carbonless paper and plastic water pipes. BPA might also seep into people's fat tissues, which would cause it to metabolize more slowly. Results of the study were published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Although there have not been any studies that conclusively show than BPA is harmful to humans, the U.S. National Toxicology Program has reported that it has "some concern" about human exposure to BPA in certain cases, especially when it comes to fetuses, infant and small children. The FDA has maintained it's own view that current levels of BPA exposure are safe.

Mercury On The Grocery Store Shelf

Mercury, a chemical that is a proven toxin to humans, is the focus of two studies looking at foods with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener replacement for sugar that is used extensively in foods and drinks, and can be found in cereals, drinks, breads, lunch meat, yogurt, soup, condiments and more.

A recent look at HFCS in foods was done by the Institute for Agriculture and Trace Policy (IATP). The group chose 55 brand name foods and beverages that listed HFCS as their first or second ingredient and had them tested for mercury.

Almost one-third of them tested positive for mercury, which was found most prevalent in dairy products, dressings and condiments. No mercury was found in the majority of beverages that were tested, which the group notes as important since drinks are the highest source of HFCS in diets. Items high on the list of mercury content include Quaker Oatmeal to Go, Jack Daniel's and Kraft Barbeque sauce, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars.

The IATP cautions, though, that it only had one sample of each product tested, and the report findings (PDF) are not a confirmation that all of one product will contain mercury.

A different study, one conducted in 2005 but just recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health, looked at 20 samples of commercial HFCS from three different manufacturers, and found detectable levels of mercury in nine of the samples. It also concluded that the possibility of mercury contamination was not known in the industry. The research was made know to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the time, and the IATP notes that the FDA has not done anything to change industry practices or inform consumers.

Mercury can make its way into foods due to practices earlier in the supply chain. Caustic soda is one of the ingredients used to separate corn starch from corn kernels. Some industrial chlorine plants that produce caustic soda use mercury in their production, which can result in mercury-contaminated caustic soda and, in turn, mercury-contaminated HFCS.

Although many plants that produce caustic soda have switched to mercury-free methods, others still rely on mercury. Four U.S. plants and about 60 percent of European caustic soda production uses mercury.

The IATP points out that is it possible to switch all caustic soda to mercury-free production, and recommends the FDA ban the use of mercury-grade ingredients and revisit its approval of HFCS as "natural" and "generally recognized as safe." For consumers, the IATP says the simplest solution would be to avoid foods with HFCS, especially those with it high up on the ingredient list.