It may be hard to believe, but common plastic items we use every day may be extremely dangerous.

Exposure during pregnancy to the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, found in many common plastic household items, is known to cause a fertility defect in the mother’s offspring in animal studies. Endocrinologist Hugh Taylor says, “The big mystery is how does exposure to this estrogen-like substance during a brief period in pregnancy lead to a change in uterine function.”To find the answer to that question, Taylor and his team injected pregnant mice with a low dose of BPA. After the mice gave birth, they analyzed the uterus of female offspring and extracted DNA.

They found that BPA exposure during pregnancy had a lasting effect on one of the genes that is responsible for uterine development and subsequent fertility in both mice and humans. Furthermore, these changes in the offspring’s uterine DNA resulted in a permanent increase in estrogen sensitivity.

The permanent DNA changes in the BPA-exposed offspring did not show up in the offspring of mice that did not receive BPA. Taylor says, “We don’t know what a safe level of BPA is, so pregnant women should avoid BPA exposure. There is nothing to lose by avoiding items made with BPA, and maybe a lot to gain.”

People are likely being exposed to BPA at levels much higher than the recommended safe daily dose, according to a new study in monkeys. Biologist Frederick vom Saal says, “BPA is now known to be a potent estrogen. Human and animal studies indicate it could be related to diabetes, heart disease, liver abnormalities, miscarriage and other reproductive abnormalities, as well as prostate and breast cancer.”

Despite the fact that Canada has banned the chemical, here in the US the FDA declared BPA is safe based on estimates that people consume only small amounts each day from food. However, recent research indicated that US adults are exposed to more BPA from multiple sources than previously thought. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food and beverage containers, such as water and infant bottles, as well as in the epoxy resin lining of cans and other sources. The chemical can leach into food and beverages. Vom Saal says, “Between 8 and 9 billion pounds of BPA are used in products every year.”

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