Monday, March 8, 2010

Health effects of plastics better understood

A new study of Bisphenol A(BPA), which leaches from certain types of plastic bottles and food cans into their contents, increases our knowledge of the human health effects of this chemical. It has long been known that BPA behaves like the hormone estrogen in the environment, and previous research suggests that it has health risks. But now a study in mice is hinting at the mechanism by which BPA may cause permanent damage to women’s reproductive system.

Writing in FASEB Journal, researchers from Yale University School of Medicine report that fetal mice exposed to high levels of BPA during pregnancy experienced genetic mutations that caused their reproductive system to over-react to estrogen during adulthood. In humans, its feared that mothers who are exposed to BPA during pregnancy may give birth to daughters whose uteruses are programmed to be “hyper-responsive” to estrogen. Such hormonal sensitivity has a number of potential health effects, including problems with fertility, increased cancer risks, and abnormal puberty.

This new data adds to compelling reasons why manufacturers should stop using BPA. In addition to its known or suspected health risks, there are BPA-substitutes that do not have estrogenic effects. Manufacturers in Europe no longer use BPA in plastic bottles produced for that market, after public health regulators banned it. About 2.7 million tons of BPA-containing plastic is produced each year. Even if BPA has only mild hormonal effects, it is only one of many artificial, environmental estrogens contributing to a growing global burden of such substances. Now that we are learning it may alter the very manner in which we reproduce speaks volumes to the magnitude of the potential risks it poses to human health.

Photo credit: The author

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