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Healthline Connects
Healthline Connects

Study Links BPA to Miscarriages, Birth Defects in Primates

Two-year study shows the controversial chemical BPA could be responsible for reproductive harm in rhesus monkeys.

The Gist

ultrasoundBPA (bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical used in a variety of common food containers, such as water bottles, heat-activated register receipts, cups, linings for metal food cans, bottle tops, and more. It is a synthetic form of estrogen. 

In recent years, the use of BPA has been under crossfire as research has shown that some of the product can leak into the foods and substances and cause an ever-growing list of health problems. 

In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in sippy cups, baby bottles, and other containers often used by children, but still maintained it was safe for all ages. Many manufacturers of baby formula have voluntarily removed BPA from their packaging

The American Chemistry Council—a representative group of chemical manufacturers—appealed the decision on the basis that BPA and other polycarbonate resins are safe. Canada has gone so far as to outlaw the substance entirely.

The latest in research into the topic shows that exposure to BPA could pose reproductive harm, including increasing the risk of miscarriages and birth defects.

In a study that will be published in the coming issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers exposed rhesus monkeys—animals with the closest reproductive system to humans—to different levels of BPA over two years. The second year of the study exposed the monkeys to continuous low levels of BPA, mimicking the type of exposure that humans could be exposed to.

Learn more about where BPA can be found and how you can avoid it.

The Expert Take

The head of the study, Washington State University geneticist Patricia Hunt, said the research highlighted how the body handles BPA. The study found that the chemical crossed the placenta and affected the developing fetus inside of it. If the fetus was female, it changed the likelihood that a female is going to ovulate normal eggs.

“It certainly hits closer to home,” Hunt said in an interview with Healthline.

In the earliest stages of egg development, the research found the cell failed to divide properly. When this happens to a fertilized egg, the wrong number of chromosomes will almost always fail to come to term, causing either a miscarriage or birth defects.

The other problem lies in the different applications where BPA is used, namely food packaging and other common areas.

“The problem with the chemical is that we don’t know all the areas where we’re exposed,” Hunt said. “We’re probably getting exposed to more areas than we’re aware of.”

One step towards limiting a person’s exposure to BPA, Hunt said, would be to discontinue its use in food packaging. 

“If we wait, we won’t know what kind of harm it can do to humans over generations,” she said.

To study BPA’s effects on humans, Hunt says, would be a major endeavor that would need to span a generation. It would be a costly, massive study that would take decades to know the results.

The Takeaway

Continued research into the effects of BPA on animals is pointing to the possible detrimental effects of humans.

While this study focused on monkeys, the similarities in reproductive systems shows the large potential for birth defects and other ways this widely-used chemical can affect a variety of human tissues. Previous research showed that the liver doesn’t process BPA and increases a person’s risk for cancer.

Other research has shown that exposure to high levels of BPA is linked to behavioral problems in girls, impotence in men, childhood obesity, increased risk of heart disease, and more.

The WSU study should raise the concern for consumers, namely women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

The independent research cast an increasingly larger shadow on repeated claims from the American Chemistry Council that claims BPA is safe for humans.

Ways to minimize exposure to BPA include:

  • avoid using canned foods whenever possible
  • use BPA-free products whenever possible
  • use steel, glass, or porcelain containers instead of those containing plastic
  • do not microwave plastic containers as BPA can leak from them over time
  • don’t reuse the plastic bottles used to package mineral water, sports drinks, sodas, etc.

Source and Method

The latest research into BPA came out of Washington State University and the University of California, Davis. It will appear in the upcoming issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

In the study, Hunt's colleagues at the University of California, Davis exposed different groups of gestating monkeys to single daily doses of BPA and low-level continuous doses and looked at how they affected the reproductive systems of female fetuses. Similar cellular disturbances were found in earlier mouse studies assessing the levels of BPA.

Other Research 

- Brian Krans

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About the Author

The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.