A new study reveals women with elevated levels of BPA (bisphenol-A) may have an increased risk of miscarriage. The omnipresent chemical can be found in plastics, the linings of canned goods, and even in the coating on cash-register receipts.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the research shows a plausible link between BPA and miscarriage in women. Researchers studied 114 pregnant women with a history of fertility problems. Blood samples of were taken from both women who had given birth and those who had a miscarriage in the first trimester. The women were placed into groups based on their blood levels of BPA. Overall, women who miscarried had a higher level of BPA than the women who had live births. Researchers determined that miscarriage risk rose with increasing levels of BPA in the mother’s blood. Women in the group with the highest levels had about an 80 percent increased risk of miscarriage.
However, the group cautions that further studies are needed. Faced with an ever-growing body of conflicting research on BPA, many consumers are left wondering whom to believe.
What is BPA?
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is carbon-based synthetic compound used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins. Discovered in the late 1800s, the chemical was later found to mimic hormones in the body. In the 1930s, researchers began to develop BPA as a synthetic estrogen, but abandoned their work after another compound, diethylstilbestrol (DES), proved to be more effective. Ironically, millions of pregnant women took DES to prevent miscarriage from 1941 to 1971, until that drug was linked to vaginal cancer and breast cancer.
Starting in the 1950’s, BPA became widely used in plastics, a move some have described as a disconnect between disciplines. In recent years, approximately 93 percent of all Americans were found to have BPA in their urine and numerous studies have linked BPA exposure to a wide variety of health problems. An article published earlier this year in Time Magazine states:
People can absorb BPA when it seeps from plastic bottles or the lining of metal cans into the food or drinks we consume. In previous studies, higher levels of BPA in people’s urine have been linked to behavioral problems as well as reproductive disorders, heart disease and obesity, which prompted the Food and Drug Administration to ban the compound from baby bottles in 2012.
A 2012 report from the Breast Cancer Fund reveals that babies are exposed to BPA in the womb. Studies indicate prenatal BPA exposure may cause an increased risk of some types of cancer later in life, along with decreased fertility, early puberty, neurological problems and changes in the immune system.
In an online interview, Dr. Kim Harley, Associate Director at the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, stated that in utero BPA exposure is also associated with ADHD, hyperactivity, anxiety, and sexually dimorphic changes – sex-based changes that alter the genome’s blueprint.
Still other studies have shown that BPA affects girls more than boys, although both sexes may experience a disruption of brain development.
FDA slow to respond
Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, the Food and Drug Administration still maintains, “BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. This assessment is based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies including the latest findings from new studies initiated by the agency.”
One wonders how much credence should be given to research conducted by the very chemical companies who manufacture BPA or funded by industry groups, such as the American Chemical Council.
Critics of the agency are also quick to point out that the recent FDA ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups only occurred after the industry had stopped using the chemical – at the urging of parents of young children and other advocacy groups.
When asked why the U.S. government isn’t taking more of a precautionary stance, Tom Philpott of Mother Jones suggested that one need only look to the lobbying power of the three major manufacturers of BPA: Dow Chemical, Bayer, and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), a chemical company that is largely owned by the Saudi Arabian government. With billions of dollars in assets, some compare the actions of chemical company lobbyists to those of the unscrupulous lead and tobacco industries – who, for decades, insisted their products were safe and fought vehemently against tougher regulations.
What can you do?
Experts recommend avoiding cooking or warming food in plastic because heat increases the amount of BPA that leaks from containers. Consumers should also limit the use of canned foods and avoid handling cash register receipts – which are frequently tossed in with our groceries or to-go orders.
Unfortunately, given the pervasiveness of plastics in our food supply chain, even careful use of glass containers and the consumption of fresh foods over canned products won’t completely eliminate your exposure to BPA.
“BPA’s possible role in miscarriages examined” by Marilynn Marchione, AP / USA Today, October 14, 2013.
“Researchers raise concerns about BPA and breast cancer” by Liz Szabo, USA Today, October 10, 2013.
“How BPA May Disrupt Brain Development” by Alexandra Sifferlin, Time, February 26, 2013
“BPA From Cans Messes With Your Ovaries” by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, September 27, 2012.