A new study published in Pediatrics indicates preschoolers exposed to higher levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in the womb may have more anxiety and depression and have worse self-control than those exposed to lower levels of the chemical before birth.
Although the new study was only able to show associations between BPA and behavior, and did not prove cause and effect, the study is one of the first to show that BPA exposure in the womb may be linked to behavioral effects in young children.
For the study, researchers followed 244 mothers and their babies from pregnancy through age 3.
“The results suggest that these gestational exposures, or the mother’s exposure, are more important than the childhood exposures,” says researcher Joe Braun, MSPH, PhD, research fellow in the department of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“We know that sex steroids are important in the development of masculine and feminine behaviors, and it’s possible that BPA is acting like a weak estrogen,” Braun says. “In rodents, estrogen actually masculinizes the brain,” he says, which could explain the sex differences they saw in hyperactivity.
Amir Miodovnik, MD, an attending pediatrician at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City says it’s definitely a study that’s worth paying attention to. “But you can’t take away from it that a child exposed to BPA problems in the womb is going to have behavioral problems. It’s not clear-cut like that.”
“This study raises further concerns about the subtle, but nonetheless measurable adverse effects of BPA exposure,” says Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. “Consumers in general should try to minimize exposure to this chemical,” he says.
BPA is found in many consumer products, such as plastic bottles, food packaging, dental sealants, food-can liners, and the heat-activated paper that’s used to print cash register receipts. The packaging for many frozen, processed, and canned foods contains BPA.
And BPA has been found in almost all of the 19 name-brand canned foods tested by Consumer Reports Magazine, including Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans– the chemical was even found in organic canned foods and canned foods labeled “BPA-free.”
BPA has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancers, and reproductive abnormalities. Current federally approved levels are based on experiments done in the 1980s.
But according to the Breast Cancer Fund there are more than 200 recent studies linking low doses of BPA with adverse health effects, suggesting serious health risks could result from much lower doses of BPA which has been detected in the urine of more than 90% of Americans.
According to the AMA, high levels of BPA in humans are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and liver-enzyme abnormalities, and women have more miscarriages.