Levels of bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic chemical known to disrupt hormone function, are elevated in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, the most common type of hormone imbalance in women of childbearing age. Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome should be aware of sources of BPA and avoid them when possible.
BPA, a chemical used primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and found in food cans, water bottles, and other plastic items, has been linked to several health problems that involves hormone functioning. A recent study, for example, found an association between exposure to BPA and male sexual function, while other studies have explored a link between BPA exposure in pregnant women and its impact on fertility and behavior among their female children.
In the current study, the results of which will be presented at The Endocrine Society’s 92nd Annual Meeting in San Diego, the researchers evaluated 71 women with PCOS and 100 healthy females matched by age and body composition. When blood samples were analyzed, lean women with PCOS had BPA levels nearly 60 percent higher than seen in the controls, while obese women had levels 30 percent higher.
The investigators also noted that as the BPA levels rose, there was a concomitant increase in the concentrations of testosterone and androstenedione (which converts to testosterone). Polycystic ovary syndrome is characterized by excessive secretion of male hormones such as testosterone.
Women with the disease are also at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and infertility. In addition, past studies indicate that BPA levels are high in women who have had recurrent miscarriages. Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School and co-author of the study, pointed out that the excessive secretion of androgens (e.g., testosterone) that occurs in PCOS interferes with the detoxification of BPA by the liver, which then results in an accumulation of BPA in the blood.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome) affects one in 15 women around the world, according to a 2007 review in Lancet. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, PCOS is a lifelong condition, but it can be treated. Treatment depends on the woman’s symptoms and whether she wants to become pregnant. Long-term treatment may be necessary to help prevent endometrial cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Results of the University of Athens Medical School study should signal women who have polycystic ovary syndrome to “be alert regarding this environmental contaminant’s potential adverse effects on reproductive aspects of their health problem,” cautions Diamanti-Kandarakis. She notes, however, that at this point, “no one has proved that by reducing BPA levels in PCOS, it will have beneficial effects.”
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Norman RJ et al. Lancet 2007 Aug 25; 370(9588): 685-97