Despite the FDA’s assurances to the contrary, there has been quite a bit of research showing that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) — the compound commonly used in the lining of cans, water bottles, and plastic packaging — is linked to a variety of health problems. Now, the latest study on the subject has found that it may be particularly detrimental for pregnant women because it can adversely affect the growing fetus.
The research, conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health, indicates that exposure to BPA in the womb could result in behavioral issues during the preschool years.1 The scientists tested 244 pregnant women at 16 and 26 weeks gestation to determine the BPA levels in their urine. They were retested around the time they gave birth; then their children were tested every year for the first three years thereafter. The testing determined that those mothers-to-be with high levels of BPA had 3-year-olds who were more likely to be hyperactive, aggressive, anxious, and demonstrate much less control over their emotions than their counterparts whose mothers had lower levels of BPA during pregnancy.
Interestingly, the preschoolers’ own levels of BPA did not make a difference in behavior, suggesting the damage was done in their earliest stages of development. The growing fetal brain is likely to be extremely sensitive to chemical exposure. Such long-lasting effects may be responsible for, or at the very least related to, the uptick in early behavior problems and diagnoses of such disorders as ADHD in young children. This would also seem to confirm earlier animal studies on the subject that found an association between BPA exposure during pregnancy with offspring that were more aggressive and anxious than those who were not exposed.
In this study, for every tenfold increase in the mother’s BPA levels during pregnancy, the children showed a resultant decrease of nine to 12 points when tested for control of their impulses and emotions. And surprisingly, the findings were worse for girls than boys. High levels of anxiety and depression were more than twice as common in the preschool girl participants than the preschool boys when the mothers were exposed to more BPA. This difference could be due to the disparity in hormones between the genders and just which hormones are affected by BPA. Since BPA has been linked in prior research to elevated levels of the hormone estradiol, it could be that this disproportionately affects females because, surprisingly, it promotes more masculine hormone development, leading to more typically aggressive behaviors. Although that might first sound like a contradiction, that’s not necessarily the case. In animal studies, the female hormone estradiol has been shown to convert to testosterone, resulting in masculinization.
BPA is well known to be an endocrine disrupter that has estrogenic effects. Many previous studies have found similar health risks involving this chemical. Back in 2008, scientists at the Yale University School of Medicine found that BPA affects brain structure and brain function in monkeys — interfering with learning ability, memory, and mood.2 (Sounds like a textbook reading for at least some of the symptoms of ADHD.3) The study was structured “…to closely mimic the slow and continuous conditions under which humans would normally be exposed to BPA,” according to lead researcher Csaba Leranth. In other words, the Yale study has powerful implications for any of us who have contact with BPA products — and that’s almost all of us. The current Harvard research discovered that 97 percent of the subjects — both the moms and their children — were found to have some BPA in their urine.
Over 150 other peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to issues including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and developmental and reproductive problems. Yet it is still on our shelves in a frightening number of products. It’s probably impossible to eliminate all exposure to this chemical — at least until government agencies decide to act — but we should certainly do our best to avoid it as much as we can. Skipping the ubiquitous plastic water bottles as well as plastic-lined packaged and canned foods will reduce BPA exposure quite a bit. This is important for everyone, due to the range of ailments BPA has been associated with. But for our children’s sake, it is most essential for all women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid as much exposure to BPA as possible. A little convenience in this case is certainly not worth the long-term effects that the BPA exposure may produce.
1 Braun, Joe M.; Kalkbrenner, Amy E.; Calafat, Antonia M.; et al. “Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children.” Pediatrics. 1 November 2011. (Accessed 2 January 2012). <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/873.abstract>.
2 Layton, Lyndsey. “Monkey study underscores risk of baby-bottle chemical.” Denver Post. 4 September 2008. (Accessed 2 January 2012.) <http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_10375971>.
3 Unknown. “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Symptoms of ADHD” WebMD (Accessed 3 Jan 2012.) <http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-symptoms>