Does BPA Trigger Migraine?

BPA, otherwise known as Bisphenol A, just won’t stay out of the news.  The controversy is heated and passionate, and is getting more complex all the time.

BPA is a xenoestrogen that is used to make many plastics around the world.  It’s an industry worth billions, and it’s just one of the strange things that make “life” in the “modern” world possible.

BPA and xenoestrogens - Migraine risk?

A xenoestrogen can imitate estrogen in the body – that alone makes it a suspect for migraine, which in may women is connected to estrogen cycles.  Could BPA actually be a trigger for many of the health issues in our society, such as migraine, sexual and reproductive disorders, breast cancer, obesity, and memory problems?

For this to be proven, a chain of events needs to be verified.  Is the BHP in plastic containers (and even lining the cans much of our food comes in) actually getting into our food?  Or can it get into our bodies in other ways?  If so, are the amounts high enough to actually do damage?  How much damage?

The problem with long term exposure is that it’s hard to prove a connection, and if it only causes problems in some sensitive people, it’s even harder to prove.

In the USA, the FDA’s current position is as follows:

FDA’s current assessment is that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.  This assessment is based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies including the latest findings from new studies initiated by the agency.

FDA will continue its review of BPA, including supporting ongoing studies; reviewing all new science bearing on the safety of the chemical; and seeking input from the public, other experts, and other agencies.  Meanwhile, the agency acknowledges the food and packaging industries’ efforts, in response to consumer demand, to provide products that are BPA-free…

But BPA studies continue to be in the news.  Recently, a review of previous BPA studies have led some scientists to believe that BPA can be dangerous at lower levels – much lower levels – than was previously believed.

This has concerned many in the medical field.  For example, Breast Cancer UK is now calling for a ban on BPA, due to breast cancer risk.

Migraine and BPA Study

The new study comes from The University of Kansas Medical Center in the USA.  As is common in initial migraine studies, the tests were done on rats.

The simple result was that BPA increased migraine-like symptoms in rats – or at least behaviour that indicated migraine-like symptoms.

The researchers also noted that BPA changed how estrogen functioned in the body, indicating that the BPA-estrogen-migraine connection may not be so far-fetched.

Now this doesn’t mean that using a plastic container will trigger an attack – but it may mean that exposure over time could be helping to trigger your attacks or make them worse.

Let’s make it more complicated…

Let’s imagine a world where BPA has been banned – labels proudly shout “BPA FREE!”, and consumers buy plastics with confidence.  We no longer need to worry about xenoestrogens!  Or – do we?

I’m afraid we do.  BPA is not the only xenoestrogen out there.  Less known, but perhaps even more dangerous, other xenoestrogens are being used in plastics.

So in a BPA-free world, we would still have a lot to worry about.  Studying BPA is only the first step in studying a whole series of chemicals that are ubiquitous in our modern society.

Avoiding the Problem?

Although it’s virtually impossible in the modern world to avoid contact with BPA and other similar chemicals, there is some common wisdom about limiting your exposure.  For example:

  • Do not microwave foods in plastic containers.
  • Don’t wash plastic containers in your dishwasher, or use harsh soaps to wash them.
  • Be cautious about reusing plastic water bottles, especially those that have been left in a hot place (your car).
  • Throw out plastic food containers that are damaged (chipped, scratched).
  • Avoid plastics with a 3 or 7 recycling code (they’re more likely to contain BPA).
  • Of course, you could also avoid plastics and canned food.  Go for fresh wherever possible.

The one I didn’t mention was “look for a label that says BPA FREE”.  The reason should be obvious – there’s a good chance that another similar, maybe even more dangerous, chemical is being used.  If you don’t know what the ingredients are, just knowing that one bad ingredient isn’t inside isn’t much of a help.


Of course, that’s the common wisdom for those trying to avoid BPA.  The debate goes on about whether or not we should bother.  Still, this could be another reason why people going for more of a fresh food diet often see such an improvement in their health.

Because of the nature of the problem, it could be a long time before we have more solid evidence.  But if xenoestrogens are making us sick, do we need to wait a generation or two in order to feel better?

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1 comment… add one
  • MigrainePal Dec 13, 2013

    Nice article. A complicated and confusing topic. But something we should nevertheless be made aware of.

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