Plastic products marketed as “BPA-free” may be just as harmful to human health as products that contain the controversial industrial chemical, a new study warns. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri, comes amid decades of research analyzing the effects of BPA exposure in animal models. Past research has shown that exposure to BPA in plastics can lead to early pregnancy loss, placental diseases and other adverse health outcomes after birth, and this new study shows that exposure to chemical alternatives, like BPA’s chemical cousin BPS, may pose just as serious a health risk as exposure to BPA.
BPA is a term commonly used to represent bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics, including water bottles and food storage containers, and epoxy resins, which is used to coat the inside of metal products, such as bottle tops and food cans. Research has shown that BPA from these types of products can seep into food or beverages and expose consumers to a range of possible adverse health effects. Most notably, BPA exposure has been shown to have an impact on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children, and childhood exposure has also been linked to behavioral problems and mood disorders in children, such as hyperactivity, inattention, depression and anxiety.
As the potential adverse health effects of BPA exposure have become more widely known, many companies have started making plastic products that are BPA-free, substituting alternative chemicals like bisphenol S (BPS). However, in this new study, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers warn that these chemical alternatives still aren’t safe for human use. In fact, the researchers concluded in their study that using BPA-free plastic products could be just as harmful to human health, including a developing brain, as products that contain BPA.
In order to determine what effects exposure to chemical alternatives like BPS may have on an unborn child, the researchers looked at the effects of both BPS and BPA on a mouse’s placenta. According to MU scientist Cheryl Rosenfeld, “Synthetic chemicals like BPS can penetrate through the maternal placenta, so whatever is circulating in the mother’s blood can easily be transferred to the developing child.” Because the placenta in mice and humans has a similar structure, the researchers were able to use the mouse model to simulate the possible effects of exposure to BPS during human pregnancy.
Rosenfeld also noted that the placenta serves as a key source of serotonin for fetal brain development in both humans and mice. Serotonin is a natural chemical that is commonly identified as a contributor to feelings of happiness and well-being. While serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer, the actual biological function of the chemical is much more complex and multifaceted than that. In addition to regulating mood and social behavior, serotonin also plays a key role in a person’s sleep, memory, appetite and digestion, and sexual desire and function. Every part of the body uses serotonin and the chemical is responsible for many of the important functions that your body needs to survive.
Based on their findings, the MU researchers determined that exposure to BPS and other chemical alternatives may have similar adverse health effects similar to BPA, making them just as unsafe for human use. “The placenta responds to both natural chemicals as well as synthetic chemicals that the body misinterprets as natural chemicals, but the body doesn’t have the ability to mitigate the detrimental effects of such industrial-made chemicals,” Rosenfeld said. “More importantly, these chemicals have the ability to lower the placenta’s serotonin production. Lower levels of serotonin can compromise fetal brain development because during this critical time in development the brain relies on the placenta to produce serotonin. Thus, developmental exposure to BPA or even its substitute, BPS, can lead to longstanding health consequences.”