Prenatal exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) may be associated with a high risk for asthma and wheezing in school-age girls, according to a study published in the journal Environment International. This study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain.
Bisphenols are chemicals used to manufacture plastics and resins found in several products, including reusable bottles and toys. The most common bisphenol is called bisphenol A (BPA), which is a known endocrine disruptor commonly used in food containers. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) added this chemical to the list of “very high concern” substances in 2017. As a result, some countries have imposed limits on its use, and some manufacturers are trying to replace BPA with other bisphenols.
After analysing data from more than 3,000 children from six countries in Europe (Spain, France, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, and the UK), the researchers found out that exposure to bisphenol A during pregnancy causes respiratory problems later in life.
Urine samples collected between 1999 and 2010 revealed that 90% of pregnant mothers had high levels of BPA. The remaining bisphenols studied were less prevalent when these samples were collected. The only exception was the Netherlands, where mothers also had high levels of other bisphenols, including bisphenol F in 40% of the samples and bisphenol S in 70%. The authors believe this was probably due to an early move away from bisphenol A in that country, which was replaced by less dangerous chemicals.
Years later, the researchers collected data regarding the babies’ respiratory health. Combining the results, the team found a link between levels of BPA in the mothers during pregnancy and the incidence of asthma and wheezing in school-age girls: a twofold increase in the concentration of bisphenol A resulted in a 13% higher risk of respiratory symptoms.
“We believe that the effect may be due to the fact that bisphenols can cross the placental barrier and interfere with the child’s respiratory and immune systems during the developmental phase,” explains Alicia Abellán, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.
Curiously, the team didn’t find the same link in boys. “Bisphenols are endocrine disruptors and can interfere with sex hormones,” said Maribel Casas, ISGlobal researcher. “As our findings suggest, this may give rise to differences in the effects they have depending on the sex of the person exposed.”
Abellan A, Mensink-Bout S, Garcia-Esteban R et al (2022). In utero exposure to bisphenols and asthma, wheeze, and lung function in school-age children: A prospective meta-analysis of 8 European birth cohorts. Environment International. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2022.107178