Not Again! BPA Exposure Linked to Autism Risk
As if there weren’t enough reasons to avoid the common chemical pollutant, bis-phenol A (BPA), researchers now report that exposure to BPA may be linked to the risk of developing autism.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a set of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect behavioral, social, and neurological development. The incidence of autism has increased dramatically—and alarmingly—in the past few decades. Once exceptionally uncommon, ASD is now believed to affect one in eight children by the age of 8. It affects boys four time more often than girls. At best, affected individuals can be socially awkward. At worst, they may be incapable of communicating, and may engage in repetitive, stereotyped behaviors.
BPA is an ingredient used by the plastics industry to make common plastics more pliable. It’s present in everything from cash register receipts, to water bottles, to can liners for food. It’s even in children’s toys made with plastic. Most of the concern about BPA relates to its ubiquitousness: it’s been documented in the bloodstreams of the vast majority of Americans. And it acts as an endocrine disruptor. Because it resembles estrogen, it may bind with estrogen receptors on cells all over the body. Evidence suggests that it interferes with normal sexual maturation, for example.
But this new finding is especially troubling, given how baffling the rise in autism cases has been. BPA persists in the environment, and has been found in air, water and soil in locations all over the world, including remote ones such as the Arctic circle. “It has been suspected for a lot of years that BPA is involved in autism, but there was no direct evidence," said T. Peter Stein, lead author of the present study. “We've shown there is a link. The metabolism of BPA is different in some children with autism than it is in otherwise healthy children.”
“Other studies involving rodent data have shown that BPA functions as an endocrine disruptor, but ours is the first to show this in humans and the first to associate it to autism,” Stein said. “The observations show that for some children there was a relationship between intermediary metabolism, the ability to conjugate BPA and symptoms of autism.”
In other words, children with autism appear to have considerably higher levels of the compound in their bodies because their bodies do not eliminate it as readily as other people. While that doesn’t prove that BPA causes autism, it certainly suggests an unhealthy association between the two. “One implication of our study is that there might be a benefit to reducing BPA exposure for pregnant women and for children with autism,” Stein concluded.
T. Peter Stein, Margaret D. Schluter, Robert A. Steer, Lining Guo, Xue Ming. Bisphenol A Exposure in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Research, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/aur.1444