By now, you’ve likely heard about the health effects of Bisphenol A (BPA), the plastic-hardening chemical used in canned food linings and in other consumer products too numerous to list. (It can have negative effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands and has been linked to increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.)
And maybe you stopped using plastic water bottles and eating canned food. But if you haven’t yet made a change, or your vigilance has lessened, listen up: A new study implicates BPA as negatively affecting the health of not just those who ate BPA-laden food but also of four generations of their children. Considering that BPA is found in 90 percent of Americans’ blood, that’s a lot of children who could potentially be impacted by an innocent-seeming can of spaghetti and meatballs.
The new study, published in the journal Endocrinology, examined the trans-generational effects of BPA on mice. The researchers fed BPA-laden food to one set of mouse mothers and regular food to another, then monitored the behavior of their pups and that of three subsequent generations. The scientists also submitted the animals to genetic testing.
The mice that were directly exposed to BPA in the womb were less social and more isolated than the other group. They spent less time exploring their cages and engaging with other mice. But by the third generation, the behavior had flipped. The BPA-exposed mice were more social and engaged than the other mice. While that may sound like a good thing, it isn’t. It simply means that the chemical continues to influence brain activity for generations, the authors wrote in their study.
In fact, some of the behavioral issues they saw in all generations of mice were similar to those seen in autistic childrenand children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. “Autism is characterized by a reduction in social interactions and we observed some declines in social interaction in the BPA-exposed mice,” says Emilie F. Rissman, the study’s lead investigator and a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine.
As for genetics, the researchers found in all four generations of BPA-exposed mice that the chemical changed how estrogen receptors were switched off and on. They also saw changes in the way that two other hormones acted in the mice’s brains—oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and vasopressin, which influences hostile behaviors and reactions to stress.
What was interesting—and disturbing—about this study was that the researchers exposed the mice to levels of BPA that humans would normally be exposedto in their diets. “Mouse behavior and human behavior are miles apart,” says Rissman. But because mouse and human genetics are so similar, the animals are a good laboratory model for what could be happening in people, she adds.