Goji Berries against BPA-induced reproductive damage
In a 2013 study on mice, researchers concluded polysaccharides in goji berries (a medicinal known to Chinese herbalists as “Gou Qi Zi”) were able to both “protect the testis and epididymis from BPA induced injuries” as well as “reduce the damage of BPA on spermatogenic cells.” They explain the medicinal’s effect as gonadotropin-like, helping to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, while also suppressing damage of lipid peroxidation and other peroxide radicals on DNA. The authors note that in another study, the polysaccharides have further been shown to “increase the weights and coefficiencies of testis to normal level.”
Chinese medicine has been using goji berries (also known as lycium fruit or barbary wolfberry) for a very long time. The first written record for Gou Qi Zi dates back to 500 CE, found in the Ming Yi Za Zhu text by Tao Hong-Jing. In Chinese medicine, we prescribe goji berries to nourish blood and the body’s fluids. It’s particularly beneficial to the eyes in case of overuse and deficiency. (I love to cook it into carrot soup for double eye-happiness!)
It makes sense that researchers are now finding it can be helpful for protecting the reproductive system in the face of potential BPA-induced damage, as Gou Qi Zi has long been used to support the [Chinese medicine] Liver, Kidney and Lung. These organs in Chinese medicine relate to the immune and reproductive systems. While it’s not a medicinal for everyone (there are contraindications for excess conditions, caution in pregnancy and digestive concerns for those with weak systems), it’s by and large considered a superfood and a commonplace item that can easily be found in most natural food stores.
What’s BPA? Where is it found?
BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical used to harden certain plastics (e.g. baby bottle, water bottle, etc). It’s also an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen in the body. Alternatively, BPA can block the effect of stronger natural estrogens, inhibiting estrogen function. In 2011 NPR reported on a study published by scientists at PlastiPure and sister company CertiChem just earlier that year, citing “more than 90 percent [of over 450 plastic products tested, including many labeled BPA-free] released chemicals that mimic estrogen.” For this reason, it’s considered a “xenoestrogen.”
While by and large the argument about BPA has centered around its use in plastic, the chemical is ubiquitous, found in everything from thermal paper (e.g. paper receipts) to the lining of canned foods to dental sealants and cosmetics. According to WebMD, “[m]ore than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies right now.”
What about alternatives to BPA in plastics?
The “double-edged sword” of BPAF
BPAF is considered to be even more problematic than BPA. Science News reports, “Indeed, the fluorines bind to ER-alpha [estrogen receptors] some 20 time more effectively than BPA does, and to ER-beta almost 50 times more effectively.” Jan-Åke Gustafsson, molecular endocrinologist at the University of Houston, explains the chemical as a “double-edged sword,” by which it increases ER-alpha (estrogen receptors) activity and shuts down ER-beta’s countervailing functions; ultimately BPAF “shift[s] endocrine action toward greater toxicity.”
What are the risks of BPA/F exposure?
There is still a lot of debate on the subject. The FDA maintains the chemical is safe given the level of exposure from contaminated foods/beverages. The Environmental Magazine, however, quotes “[o]ver 200 laboratory studies have linked low-dose BPA exposure to a host of health effects.” WebMD lists the following areas of concern:
- Hormone disruption
- Brain and behaviour problems (migraines, anyone?)
- Heart problems
- Possibly obesity, diabetes and ADHD
BPA-risks specific to women
Environmental Health News goes on to cite a study conducted at Harvard University in concluding “[e]xposure to bisphenol A (BPA) at levels commonly found in the general population may cut a woman’s chance of getting pregnant if she is undergoing fertility treatment…. The pregnancies failed because the embryos did not attach to the uterus.” For more on the correlation between BPA levels and implantation failure, see: Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations and Implantation Failure among Women Undergoing in Vitro Fertilization.
And now here’s a curveball — BPA has even been shown in cell culture to block the effects of breast cancer chemotherapy by “apparently by altering expression of proteins involved in apoptosis, or programmed cell death.”
BPA-risks specific to men
In a 2011 study on male workers exposed to BPA on the job, researchers found, “Compared with men who did not have detectable urine BPA levels, those with detectable urine BPA had more than three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality, more than four times the risk of lower sperm count, and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility.” In a 2012 study on male rats, BPAF was shown to inhibit testosterone production by altering the genes and proteins in the testosterone biosynthesis pathway.
What can you do to protect yourself against BPA?
As much as possible, try to avoid:
- Plastics (especially when heated by the sun or microwave, as the heat can break down the plastic and result in greater amounts of BPA leached)
- Canned goods
- Thermal receipts
- Dental sealants that use BPA
While there are some companies that have started offering BPA-free cans, given the risk of BPA alternates such as BPAF I can’t in good conscience suggest them as a preferable option. That said, there are countless options available when it comes to replacing plastic with ceramic, glass, or stainless steel.
If you already have stores of BPA in your body (which is likely), you might consider tag teaming with a healthcare professional in finding ways appropriate for your constitution and lifestyle to clear out as much of it as you can.
See your herbalist
And now we can add, see your herbalist! Find out is Gou Qi Zi is right for you before consuming.