What Are BPA And Phthalates? Plastics Chemicals Could Increase Reproductive Risks In Men And Women

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Common plastics chemicals, Bisphenol A, BPA, and phthalates could increase reproductive risks in men and women. The new studies are just the latest linking these common chemicals to potential risks in humans but the issue other BPA and phthalates use is far from settled as the Food and Drug Administration and other experts have deemed the chemicals to be safe in the low doses that may seep into food.

According to new studies presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, BPA could, possibly, increase the risk of miscarriage in women that were already considered most at risk. The second study involved phthalates and men where elevated levels of the chemical were associated with a potential fertility risk. Both studies are small and any results should be considered preliminary with further research needed prior to any conclusion.

Forbes reports the first study involved 115 women who were currently pregnant but had trouble getting pregnant or previously had a miscarriage. The researchers separated the women into four groups, based on blood BPA levels. Of the 115 participants, 67 women miscarried while 48 had a live birth. The researchers discovered the group of women with the highest blood BPA levels, the top quartile, had an 80 percent greater risk of a miscarriage compared to the group of women with the lowest BPA levels.

The second study followed 500 couples and tested phthalate levels in men and women. The study lasted for a year and the researchers discovered that men with the highest phthalate levels were 20 percent less likely to have impregnated their partner and phthalate levels in women were not a factor, reports Forbes.

BPA is a chemical found in plastics and epoxy resins, notes the Mayo Clinic, and can be found in water bottles, cans, various containers and even some dental fillings. Phthalates are used to soften plastics or make them harder to break and can be found in cosmetics, soaps, vinyl flooring and adhesives, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there are many concerns over potential risks, the Food and Drug Administration has not banned the chemicals and have deemed them to be safe in low doses, the public overview can be read here. While the FDA banned the use of BPA in infant formula packaging it was not due to safety, stating, “FDA’s action is based solely on a determination of abandonment and is not related to the safety of BPA. The agency’s current safety review supports the safety of BPA for use in the manufacture of food contact articles as authorized in the food additive regulations.”

A recent study linked high BPA levels to increased obesity risk in children although the results were not conclusive. BPA is considered an endocrine disrupter, affecting the hormone system, and prenatal exposure in mice led to genetic changes during puberty. There has been some research linking BPA with developmental problems while research from 2012 associated BPA with increased risk of heart disease.

While there have been studies associating BPA with some cancers, breast cancer from BPA exposure is unlikely. According to Trevor Butterworth’s report, published in Forbes, in response to an article published in USA Today titled “'Everywhere Chemicals' In Plastics Alarm Parents,” the study that associated BPA and breast cancer was later retracted with Butterworth saying “breast cancer from BPA is, in the real world, all but impossible.” In addition to the claims about BPA exposure and breast cancer, Butterworth references other recent BPA developments, including the possibility of contamination that could lead to high BPA levels in blood.

The FDA and National Toxicology Program are currently researching the safety of BPA at various stages in life and Butterworth says recent findings have determined that there is no risk at the levels humans are normally exposed to, but the debate over BPA’s safety continues.

The FDA, NTP and other institutions are actively researching the safety of BPA and phthalates and new research, such as the two studies, can lead to a better understanding of what effect these chemicals have on humans. While there is no way to avoid BPA or phthalates completely there are guidelines one can follow. Many manufacturers make BPA-free water bottles and the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health have tips to avoid BPA.

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