If you’ve been following my work even for just a short while, you know I’m big on gut health.
That’s because science is increasingly discovering the huge impact that our good bacteria have on our health, and how bad bacteria can hinder it. We’re always learning more about the intricacies of our beneficial bacteria, called the microbiome, and the many functions they serve to keep us well.
Functional Medicine always assesses the gut when working to identify the root cause of a health problem. This is often more successful for long-term, full-body healing than a conventional approach that would only focus on treating the symptoms.
Another piece of health I’m passionate about educating my patients on is reducing toxic exposure. After my own experiences with mercury poisoning and mold exposure and feeling the horrific effects that environmental toxins can have on human health, I want to help others understand how to avoid the onslaught of dangerous chemicals that have become so prevalent in our modern times.
One recent study on mice from Texas A&M investigated the link between BPA (a chemical in many plastics) and symptoms of preclinical inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is becoming increasingly common in industrialized countries.
IBD is an umbrella term that covers multiple inflammatory diseases of the gut, including ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic, unexplained symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain. While BPA is most commonly known for its use in plastics, it’s also found in non-plastic food storage containers like cans and water supply lines, not to mention it is used in some dental sealants and composites. Researchhas already shown us that BPA can leak out of food storage containers and other items and into our food and water supply, increasing the risk of infertility, heart disease, weight gain, cancer and more. It’s also clear that it can cause harm even when exposure is low.
Now, we’re finding out about even more of the damage BPA can cause. We’ve known that toxic environmental exposures and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, can play a role in the development and severity of IBD. This study shows that BPA is another offender to add to that list. Researchers found that it increased injury and inflammation in the colon and decreased levels of microbiota. Plus, it showed that BPA exposure worsened the overall symptoms of IBD compared to a control group and even increased mortality.
To add insult to injury, the type of bacteria that were negatively impacted by the BPA are the ones responsible for serotonin production and breakdown—a key neurotransmitter that when inadequate can lead to anxiety and depression. This a prime example of the gut-brain connection and the role the microbiome can play in mental health.
It’s important to note, that while many companies are becoming increasingly conscious of BPA, the most common replacement, BPS, may be just as harmful.
This alternative was thought to be less likely to leach, however, tests have shown it’s present in 81 percent of Americans. This is unsettling when you consider that less than one part per trillion can disrupt cellular function and that the negative impacts of BPS can be the same as BPA. The takeaway—avoid all plastics as much as possible.
The link between BPA and the gut is just one of many looks into what can happen to our health when our bacteria are out of balance. Even for those without IBD, it’s important to be aware of toxin exposure and care for your beneficial bacteria as part of a well-rounded health routine. For more information about gut health, check out my previous posts, Here’s the Downside of Antibiotics Your Doctor Might Not Tell You and How to Feed Your Gut.
Mark Hyman, MD
- Antibiotics Giving You Diarrhea? Try Probiotics
- How Antibiotics Disrupt Intestinal Flora
- Gut Health 101: What Is the Microbiome?
- The Role of Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome