Bisphenol A, a chemical commonly known as BPA, is found in many plastic products people engage with on a daily basis. From plastic water bottles to store receipts, BPA is pretty much everywhere. And considering this chemical is found in *a ton* of commercial products, it's no surprise that some people have concerns about a recent study that claims low doses of BPA could affect a fetus' brain development. Although the findings are troubling, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before this research is deemed conclusive.
The most common way BPA enters a person's body is via food and beverages (think baby bottles, canned foods, etc.), according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The risk of ingesting BPA increases when a container or bottle increases as temperature increases, which is why, for example, it's recommended that people refrain from drinking a water bottle that has been sitting in a hot car. Still, as much as people try to avoid the chemical, a 2003-2004 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found BPA in 93 percent of 2,517 urine samples from people 6 years and older, according to the CDC's website. Translation: people in the United States are regularly exposed to high levels of BPA.
But why is BPA worrisome to so many people? Well, animal-based studies have found that BPA might pose a laundry list of health risks, including a disruption of hormone levels, heart problems, and behavioral issues, according to WebMD. And most of all, there are concerns that BPA exposure can alter a fetus' brain development. What's interesting, however, is that there's little information on how low doses of BPA can affect a developing fetus, which is why an associate professor at the University of Calgary, Deborah Kurrasch, Ph.D., decided to lead a study on this exact issue.
"Our study is the first to use environmentally relevant doses of BPA and show exposure to the chemical during brain development can affect the timing of the birth of nerve cells, or neurons," Kurrasch explained, according to Science Daily. Essentially, Kurrasch aimed to debunk the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) claim that BPA is generally safe in low doses.
To conduct the study, Kurrasch's team analyzed three groups of pregnant mice: one group was fed high doses of BPA, the second group was fed low levels of the chemical, and the last group ate food without any traces of BPA. Interestingly enough, researchers found an increase of neurons in the early development of the baby mice that were fed high and low doses of BPA.
Kurrasch said of the findings' significance, according to Endocrine News:
This is important because specific neurons are known to be born at a very distinct time points, and if they are born early -- as is the case here -- then presumably these early neurons will migrate to the wrong place and form the wrong connections. These findings start to provide a rationale as to how BPA might affect developing brains.
Furthermore, the research team evaluated the low and high level groups' behavioral patterns in comparison to the non-BPA group. Researchers concluded that the behavior of the BPA groups mirrored the behavior of children born to people with high levels of BPA in their system, suggesting that the chemical produced lasting changes in the brain. Some behavioral issues that BPA might be linked to are inattention and hyperactivity, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
So, what does this study mean for pregnant people? Kurrasch said, according to Science Daily:
The public is becoming well educated on the debate surrounding BPA safety, as well as other chemicals. Although there is still work to be done to translate these rodent effects to human pregnancy, this research could provide expectant mothers with important information on what to avoid to best protect their babies.
Note Kurrasch's mention that there is "still work to be done" to figure out the relationship between "rodent effects" and "human pregnancy." At this time, there's a lack of conclusive evidence suggesting that low levels of BPA will harm your developing baby. Pregnancy can be a scary time as it is, so it's probably best to talk about any concerns you may have with your doctor before you freak out. As with any new study that's frightening, all you can do is arm yourself with already proven facts.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.