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May 2, 2011

A new study has found a link between exposure of fetuses to Bisphenol A (BPA) in the womb and childhood wheezing.

Wheezing is a term describing the sound made during a child’s breathing that indicates a respiratory problem. Asthma, airway disorders, inflammation, allergies and infection can cause wheezing.

Manufacturers use the industrial chemical Bisphenol A in wide range of products, including a large variety of plastic products, food packaging, dental sealants, store receipts and water supply pipes. The problem is that BPA can leach out into food or the environment. BPA exposure is widespread and there are concerns about the health effects of long-term exposure to adults, growing children and fetuses in the womb.

Researchers from Penn State University Hershey Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Simon Fraser University studied 398 mothers and their babies. They analyzed urine samples from women during pregnancy at 16 and 26 weeks, and at birth for BPA. Those mothers then reported any instances of wheezing on a bi-annual basis for three years.

99 percent of children in the study were born from mothers who had detectable levels of BPA in their system during pregnancy.

Study data showed that children six months old who had mothers with higher levels of BPA were twice as likely to have wheezing, although the wheezing appeared to diminish as the child aged. After comparing BPA levels in the 16, 26 and birth urine samples to wheezing reports, researchers found that babies with wheezing were those exposed to higher levels of BPA in early pregnancy.

“This suggests that there are periods of time during pregnancy when the fetus is more vulnerable,” said lead author Adam J. Spanier, MD, PhD, MPH, FAAP and assistant professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine said in a Penn State release. “Exposure during early pregnancy may be worse than exposure in later pregnancy.”

Researchers presented the study entitled Prenatal Bisphenol A Is a Risk Factor for Early Transient Wheeze at a joint meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded it “has some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA from food and supported the removal of BPA from baby bottles in response to new studies showing a potential risk for adverse health effects from exposure to BPA.

BPA is similar to the female hormone estrogen and some believe that it acts as an endocrine disrupter that affects the reproductive systems of men and women. The study entitled “Urine bisphenol-A (BPA) level in relation to semen quality” funded by the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that exposure to BPA affected the number and quality of sperm in men.

According to Time Magazine, another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that mice pups exposed to BPA in the womb were more likely to have respiratory problems.

“Consumers need more information about the chemicals in the products they purchase so they can make informed decisions,” Dr. Spanier said. “Additional research is needed in this area to determine if changes should be made in public policy to reduce exposure to this chemical.”

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