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BPA May Increase Risk of Down Syndrome


The risk of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome may increase with exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), according to a study published in Human Reproduction. That risk is associated with the future offspring of the fetus, who would have cell changes that increase the chance of the development of Down syndrome.

BPA is associated with numerous health risks

Previous studies have pointed out many negative effects from BPA, a chemical found in common plastic products as well as in the lining of food containers. BPA has been associated with heart disease, erectile dysfunction, a reduction in male fertility, and hyperactivity in young girls. High levels of the toxin have also been found in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome.

Now researchers at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) with fellow colleagues studied the impact of BPA in a culture of 21,570 in vitro oocytes, which are cells that develop into ova. They found when the oocytes were exposed to BPA at levels deemed acceptable by health officials, the chemical changed the development of oocytes and future ova and reduced the number of the cells.

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A reduction in oocytes can impact a woman’s offspring by reducing their ability to have children. According to UAB professor Montserrat Garcia Caldes, who directed the research, their results show that “BPA does not directly affect the fertility of pregnant women, but that of their daughters and granddaughters. It is a multigenerational effect.”

The researchers also observed the effect of BPA on the process of cell division of the oocytes (meiosis). They discovered that the impact of BPA on meiosis, during which chromosomes get together and exchange material, could lead to Down syndrome.

As co-author Miguel Angel Brieno-Enriquez noted, “although we generally metabolize the substance, pregnant women retain more fluids and the fetus could be affected by high concentration levels.” Since people ingest BPA mainly through food and beverage containers, much of exposure to the toxin can be avoided if individuals are vigilant about their food sources.

Braun JM et al. Environmental Health Perspectives online doi: 10.1289.ehp.0900979
Brieno-Enriquez MA et al. Human meiotic progression and recombination are affected by Bisphenol A exposure during in vitro human oocyte development. Human Reproduction 2011; 26(10): 2807