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July 15, 2009

Concerns over BPA

CONCERNS OVER BISPHENOL A CONTINUE TO GROW: Women may want to reconsider that popular style accessory, certain hard plastic water bottles available in fashion-coordinating colors. New animal studies link the chemical bisphenol A, which leaches from such polycarbonate plastics and food can linings, with heart arrhythmias in females and permanent damage to a gene important for reproduction. Other recent research suggests that human exposure to BPA is much higher than previously thought.


Seeping through the cracks: Bisphenol A can leach into foods and drinks, especially when polycarbonate cracks, as shown in the cup above.

In animals, fetal exposures to BPA can be especially risky, sometimes fostering brain, behavioral or reproductive problems. Canada and some states are moving to ban polycarbonate plastic in baby bottles for that reason. But the new heart data suggest that even adult exposures to BPA might cause harm. In one new study, researchers treated mice with BPA during the middle of their pregnancies. All female offspring of the treated mice suffered an irreversible genetic change in one of the "master regulatory genes" of fertility, Hugh Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine reported in June in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. This gene, HOXA10, orchestrates the activity of "hundreds -- if not thousands -- of downstream genes," Taylor says. Through the genes it controls, HOXA10 helps synchronize the timing of uterine changes and ovulation. Without that synchrony, "you won't get pregnancies," he explains. The HOXA10 gene lost a methyl group (a carbon bound to three hydrogen atoms), permanently altering its activity and rendering uterine tissue hypersensitive to the effects of estrogen. That's probably not good, Taylor says, because "many diseases we see in adults owe their origins to fetal exposures" -- when genes become inappropriately modified. In another study presented at the endocrine meeting, Scott Belcher of the University of Cincinnati and his colleagues reported that BPA boosted "pro-arrhythmic activity" in isolated muscle cells from mice and rats. Arrhythmias, or heartbeat irregularities, are blamed for a higher mortality rate after heart attacks in premenopausal women compared with men, Belcher says. Science News, 18 July 2009, p. 5.


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