Is it harmful to your health to handle receipts?

At a recent doctor’s visit, my doctor spent considerable time covering health topics with me. She informed me that I am obese (as if I wasn’t already aware) and that it would be healthier for me to lose weight. She proceeded to tell me things I already know about eating whole foods. I tried to explain that I eat well (a moving target, but based on my extensive research and listening to my body), exercise often, have tried every diet out there – and right now I am focused on loving my body, fueling it well, and not focused on the scale.

While it was a frustrating conversation, without the time to really dig into this broad topic, I do appreciate that she is taking some time to talk with patients about a broader aspect of health than the basic exam.

But she did mention something I didn’t know, but found intriguing. She said it is harmful to touch receipts. (This was part of a conversation about how environmental exposure can affect one’s ability to burn fat).

I decided to look further into this. What’s in the paper receipt? Is it actually harmful, and if so, why, and what can we do about it?

It is overwhelming to think about the potentially harmful chemicals in all of our products from soap, to lotion, to makeup, to deodorant, and so much more. However, if we focus on one thing at a time, in the case of a product, choose something that is safe and effective, then we can stick with it and move on to the next item when ready, possibly when it’s time to replace.

So, for now, let’s look at receipts.

The reason that some people say they are harmful to touch is because they are coated with BPA, about 94%.

Do you recall hearing that you should avoid BPA? Did you throw away your Nalgene water bottles because they contained BPA? Do you specifically choose the ‘BPA Free’ products on the market? Let’s look at why avoiding it became so popular.

[This post gets a bit long, for a somewhat dated, but to the point, abbreviated article, read this from The Week instead.]

What is BPA?

BPA stands for Bisphenol A. It is a chemical used to make polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic. It is also used in the epoxy resin lining canned goods.

Small amounts of BPA seep out of containers such as plastic water bottles and canned goods into the beverages or food we consume. We can also get exposure through contact (like receipts, as well as some other small ticket-like items such as airline and movie tickets). It is estimated that 90% of us have BPA in our bloodstream.

Is it bad for you?

There remains controversy over effects of BPA in the body.

It is fairly widely believed to be an endocrine disrupter. Possible harmful effects include its possible ability to act like a hormone in the body, particularly estrogen and thyroid function, which may effect cell repair, fetal development, energy levels, and reproduction. It may have an effect on the brain, particularly for infants and young children. It may increase the risk of cancer, heart problems, obesity, and diabetes. It may effect fertility in both men and women. Some studies have shown effects to babies born to women with higher levels of BPA as opposed to the control, including hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and emotional reactivity.

The use of BPA has been restricted by the following governments, though I do not know to what extent: EU, Canada, China, and Malaysia. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration’s current guidelines provide that small amounts of exposure from consuming food products with some leached BPA are not a concern. However, they have restricted the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups, and the packaging for infant formula. The FDA says that these restrictions are not due to safety, but rather because industry stopped using BPA in these products, and therefore they removed the allowance to use them in response to requests to do so.

BPA-free products replace the Bishenol A with Bisphenol-S or -F, and it appears unknown whether these substitutes act any or significantly differently than BPA. Most people appear to think these other chemicals will have a similar effect.

Back to receipts?

Skin exposure to BPA through a receipt may last longer, therefore causing a higher exposure than BPA ingested from food products. Studies have also shown that we absorb more BPA after using hand sanitizer and some lotions and other skin products. However, a good basic hand wash after touching receipts can reduce your contact.

What now?

With the information here, you can decide what you want to do about it.

Receipts are hard to avoid, but you can decline them when you do not need to track expenses, and some places now offer electronic receipts.

You can also choose to wash your hands after coming in to contact with receipts, along with other tickets.

Personally, I will try to handle receipts less (choosing emailed receipts or no receipts when possible), and I will make an effort to wash my hands after handling them when I need to handle them. I am not one to get overly cautious because it makes my life too complicated, but I am happy to have this information – both related to receipts, and BPA in general, to understand why it is being avoided, and to realize that BPA-free products are probably not a great alternative. I will continue to use glass or other non-plastic materials when easy to do so. With these changes, my own BPA ingestion should be minimized.

What are your thoughts? Will you change your actions with this information?

Sources

  1. Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in food contact application, Federal Drug Administration.
  2. Check your receipt: It may be tainted, by Rachel Nuwer.
  3. The sneaky thing you handle everyday that could be bad for your health, by Erin Bunch.
  4. The Facts about Bisphenol A.
  5. What is BPA and why is it bad for you? by Alina Petra, MS, RD.

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