After bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in food cans and plastic containers, was linked to numerous health problems, many manufacturers replaced it with bisphenol S (BPS), a similar yet supposedly safer chemical. But new research reveals that BPS, like its notorious chemical “cousin,” messes with our hormones—even at very low levels of exposure. And this poison is in paper products that we touch every day.

BPA’s estrogen-like effects are thought to be to blame for its links to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, reproductive problems and cancer. Both men and women are affected by estrogen, so this is an issue for every person, not only for women.

Study scoop: Researchers set out to see whether BPS presented dangers similar to those of BPA by testing its impact on rat cells. They looked at the effects of BPS on estrogen receptors, the parts of a cell’s membrane that respond to estrogen. Specifically, they studied how BPS affects proteins that help control cell growth and cell death (cell behaviors involved in cancer). They also looked at how those proteins affect the release of the hormone prolactin, which stimulates breast milk production in women. Increases in prolactin can suppress testosterone and decrease libido in men and women.

It’s a very technical study, but the bottom line is that, yes, BPS does interfere with cell growth and cell death—and it does so even at the small levels that humans are now routinely exposed to day-to-day.

As for prolactin, while BPS did not cause prolactin release to the same extent as BPA, it did dramatically interfere with natural estrogen’s functioning—in a way that could lead to a variety of problems for both women and men, including electrolyte imbalance (which can affect heart, nerve and muscle function), behavioral disturbances and problems with reproduction.

Now, this was a laboratory study, so it doesn’t prove beyond a doubt that BPS causes cancer, heart problems, infertility and other health problems in humans. But why take unnecessary risks?

SELF-DEFENSE AGAINST BPS

BPS is less likely than BPA to leach from containers into the foods we eat because BPS has stronger bonds. However, BPS is now used in thermal paper, such as the type used to print cash register receipts, library book checkout receipts, and ultrasound results and other medical machine printouts. When we touch such paper, BPS can enter our bodies via hand-to-mouth contact. Worse, the chemical can be absorbed through our skin—in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPS is up to 19 times more absorbable by the skin than BPA!

Best: Limit your contact with these paper products. Either refuse to accept them (for instance, you can ask the cashier to throw away your receipt)…or have them placed directly into a shopping bag and, once you reach home, put on gloves before filing or discarding the papers. If your job requires you to handle thermal paper, wear protective gloves (such as latex or another thin material) while you work. If you must touch thermal paper with your bare hands, wash your hands as soon as possible to try to limit BPS absorption—and in the meantime, keep your fingers away from your mouth.

More info on BPA and BPS: Read Toxic Toilet Paper? You’ve Got It …and BPA Is Particularly Bad News for These Women.