By now you’re well aware of the perks of drinking water (it can speed weight loss by 550 percent and rev energy by 89 percent), so you’re never far from your next glass. And while you avoid BPA — the chemical in plastic water bottles that disrupts hormones, causing fatigue and weight gain — research in the journal Nature Communications reveals that even BPA-free bottles may not be safe.
Scientists found the BPA substitute fluorene-9-bisphenol (BHPF) leached into the water from 23 of the 52 bottles tested. Why that’s a problem: “Almost all plastics, including ones marketed as BPA-free, release fake estrogens,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure. And the hormone disruption caused by BPA and its alternatives can result in brain fog and a sluggish thyroid, she says. “Even more worrisome, several BPA-free plastics demonstrate greater estrogenic activity than BPA itself.” And exposure is widespread: The CDC found that 93 percent of women have BPA in their urine; in other research, 81 percent tested positive for BPS, a BPA cousin found in plastic bottles.
To the rescue: easy tweaks to help you reap the benefits of staying hydrated while avoiding the chemical alphabet soup.
If you buy disposable bottles:Most grab-and-go plastic water bottles are made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a chemical shown to increase estrogenic activity, says Johanna Rochester, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In fact, in a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, 100 percent of PET-containing products tested released chemicals with estrogenic activity in at least one testing condition. A safer choice: water packaged in milk carton–like containers that are better for the environment and your health, like Boxed Water is Better ($1 for 16 oz., grocery stores—about the cost of a plastic bottle).
If you prefer a pitcher:Even if you keep a glass or stainless steel water-filtration pitcher in your fridge, chances are the filter is made of plastic parts. “Trying to find the 5 to 10 percent of plastic products that don’t release unsafe chemicals is like playing Russian roulette with your health—it’s not the sort of bet you’d like to take,” says George Bittner, Ph.D., a neuroscience professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied the safety of plastics. A better bet: Turn to charcoal, the filtering agent in many water-filtration pitchers. Just fill a glass pitcher with tap water and drop in a stick of activated charcoal, which absorbs impurities, says Dr. Gottfried. In a test at Colorado State University, charcoal removed 100 percent of lead, mercury and copper from tap water. One that gets rave reviews: Kishu Charcoal ($18, Amazon.com).
If you carry a reusable bottle:Toting a reusable water bottle keeps you environmentally friendly and hydrated. But most are made from hard plastic that contains BPA or one of its chemical cousins. And since you take reusable bottles wherever you go, they’re susceptible to wear and tear (being knocked around or getting heated up in the sun), which increases the amount of chemicals the plastic releases into the water. “In one study, more than 90 percent of plastic products released estrogenic chemicals before being stressed [by UV light, for example], but essentially all of them did after being stressed,” Dr. Gottfried notes. She suggests using a bottle made of stainless steel, which releases no harmful chemicals. One we like: Klean Kanteen Reflect ($30, Amazon.com).
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.