A moment on your lips, forever in your family genetics? Bisphenol A (BPA), the chemical used in canned food linings—and in other consumer products too numerous to list—was just implicated in a new study as negatively affecting the health not just of those who ate it but also of four generations of their children. Considering that BPA is found in 90 percent of Americans' blood, that's a lot of children who could potentially be impacted by an innocent can of spaghetti 'n' meatballs.
The new study, published in the journal Endocrinology, was looking at the trans-generational effects of BPA on mice. The researchers fed BPA-laden food to one set of mouse mothers and regular food to another, then monitored the behavior of their pups and that of three subsequent generations. The scientists also submitted the animals to genetic testing.
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The mice that were directly exposed to BPA in the womb were less social and more isolated than the other group. They spent less time exploring their cages and engaging with other mice. But by the third generation, the behavior had flipped. The BPA-exposed mice were more social and engaged than the other mice. While that may sound like a good thing, it isn't. It simply means that the chemical continues to influence brain activity for generations, the authors wrote in their study. In fact, some of the behavioral issues they saw in the all generations of mice were similar to those seen in autistic children and children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. "Autism is characterized by a reduction in social interactions and we observed some declines in social interaction in the BPA exposed mice," says Emilie F. Rissman, the study's lead investigator and a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
As for genetics, the researchers found in all four generations of BPA-exposed mice that the chemical changed how estrogen receptors were switched off and on. They also saw changes in the way that two other hormones acted in the mice's brains—oxytocin, the "love hormone," and vasopressin, which influences hostile behaviors and reactions to stress.
What was interesting—and disturbing—about this study was that the researchers exposed the rats to levels of BPA that humans would normally be exposed to in their diets. "Mouse behavior and human behavior are miles apart," says Rissman. But because mouse and human genetics are so similar, the animals are a good laboratory model for what could be happening in people, she adds.
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Here are the best ways to keep BPA out of your family…for generations:
• Ditch canned food. Cans are lined with an epoxy resin that's made with BPA, and that includes things like soup, canned beans, and soda. Look for aseptic cartons, glass jars, and frozen foods as alternatives.
• Swap to glass containers. Rather than store your leftovers in plastic tubs, use glass or ceramic containers and dishes. Stainless steel containers make great substitutes for plastic lunch bags and takeout clamshells.
• Don't be duped by "BPA-free" plastics. A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that those seemingly better plastics can contain BPA alternatives that are even more harmful.
• Decline receipts. They're coated with a BPA-based coating that rubs off onto your fingers and whatever else it comes in contact with.
• Be wary of dental sealants. BPA is the most commonly used dental sealant material, and it's used in composite fillings used to treat dental cavities. A recent study linked BPA in dental treatments to social problems in children, as well, prompting pediatricians to call on dentists to find other materials. However, because BPA is the most durable protective alternative in many dentists' toolboxes, they're currently reluctant to use other materials (and considering that the other primary filling alternative is mercury, the alternatives can be just as bad). Preventing cavities and tooth decay is your best bet here: Brush regularly and visit your dentist for regular cleanings.