Even limited exposure to bisphenol-A can program a developing fetus for childhood or adult obesity, says Frederick vom Saal, a biologist who has been studying the plastic additive for two decades. The results of his latest research mirror that of other recent studies, which have given new credulity to the link between BPA and obesity.
“During the development of the fetus, BPA exposure alters the development of stem cells,” vom Saal told The Daily. “Think of it as tripping a switch in the DNA. BPA turns out to be a major factor in the number of fat cells that a person will have later in life.”
BPA is a controversial chemical. Used to harden plastics, it can be present in water bottles, soup cans, cash-register receipts, toys and a host of other products. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93% of Americans have levels of BPA ranging from .1 to 9 parts per billion in their bodies.
An ‘endocrine disruptor,’ BPA mimics the hormone estrogen. Independent scientific reviews consistently find BPA to be toxic. Exposure to BPA has been linked to breast cancer, heart disease, male sexual dysfunction, depression, infertility and miscarriage in adults, and poses special risk to children and developing fetuses. Some U.S. states have passed laws prohibiting its use in baby bottles. Even Campbell’s Soups has announced plans to phase out BPA in product packaging.
Industry-funded studies, however, continually find ‘no significant risk’ from BPA exposure—and plenty of people believe them. Whenever I read posts (here or elsewhere) against BPA, I see commenters calling junk science, insisting that BPA poses no dangers, or at least not at the levels at which we’re exposed to it. In 2010, the European Union (much quicker to regulate toxic substances than the U.S.) even concluded that BPA didn’t pose a significant public health risk.
Vom Saal, however, disagrees.
[He] said that his study shows that even trace amounts of the chemical — well below those found to leach from cans into soup or soda — are enough to disrupt a developing child’s genetic structure and lead to metabolic disorders.
“BPA changes genes permanently,” vom Saal said. “It’s forever. You can’t turn nerve cells into muscle cells when you’re an adult.”
What he says jibes with the results of a Spanish study released in February, which found exposure to even miniscule amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA can trick fat cells into taking in more fat, or mislead the pancreas into secreting excess insulin. According to The Daily, both this and vom Saal’s study identify an actual method in which BPA could cause obesity, whereas past studies have only noted a correlation.
“The evidence is growing, and the new studies are passing a certain bar in terms of credibility,” Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University and the author of the book “Hormonal Chaos,” told The Daily. “The idea that there may be a chemical factor that accounts for obesity is a real game-changer. In the past, we’ve always gone towards fast food and lack of exercise, but now we’re forced to consider that another reason might be BPA.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been studying BPA safety for four years, since the U.S. National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the agency for failing to respond to a petition advocating canning use of BPA in product packaging. In 2010, it changed it’s position and said there was cause for “some concern” for the effects of BPA on fetuses and children. The agency said it would rule on BPA use in food packaging by March 31, so we should have a decision by the end of this week. Lets hope this newer research help guide the FDA in its decision.