A recently published article adds to an increasing body of research suggesting that there appears to be an association of the chemical Bisphenol-A, (BPA) and autism spectrum disorder, or ASD (Stein et al., 2015).
BPA is used in the manufacture of various types of plastics which are found in consumer items such as water bottles, sports equipment, CDs and DVDs. BPA is also found in epoxy resins that are used as lining for water pipes, coatings on the inside of food and beverage cans, and the thermal paper we receive from many businesses as sales receipts.
BPA is considered to be among a group of chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as Bisphenol-A.”
It is important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that currently approved levels of usage in food containers and packaging are safe (FDA, accessed 2015).
How do I know if products contain BPA? According to the FDA, “[c]onsumers may use the resin code appearing on plastic containers as a guide to the possible presence of BPA. A resin code of 7 indicates that the container may be made of a BPA-containing plastic.”
Previous studies have found an association of exposure to BPA and ASD and other childhood behavioral problems. Most studies linking BPA and ASD have involved prenatal exposure through the mother (Stein et al., 2015).
In 2012, deCock et al. published an overview of studies looking at perinatal (the period just before and after birth) exposure to EDCs, including BPA, and the relationship to ASD and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in humans. The authors concluded that exposure to EDCs appears to be associated with the occurrence of ASD and ADHD.
Stein et al. claim theirs is the first study to look at ongoing exposure in children. The authors compared urine samples from 46 children diagnosed with ASD and 52 children without an ASD diagnosis, and state their findings suggest an association between BPA and ASD, based on urinary concentrations.
Most research into the causes of ASD are now focusing on genetic and environmental factors. These studies looking at BPA are part of the environmental area of focus, which includes many other pre and post-natal exposures and factors. Until there is a definitive answer, we will need to simply maintain awareness, and make decisions for our families based on the most reliable scientific evidence and guidance of professionals who are responsible, and staying current on the latest research.
de Cock, M., Maas, Y. G., & van de Bor, M. (2012). Does perinatal exposure to endocrine disruptors induce autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders? Review. Acta Paediatrica, 101(8), 811-818.
FDA: Questions & Answers on Bisphenol A (BPA) Use in Food Contact Applications, (accessed 2015). http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm355155.htm
NIEHS; NIH: Endocrine Disruptors, (accessed 2015): http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/
Stein, T. P., Schluter, M. D., Steer, R. A., Guo, L., & Ming, X. (2015). Bisphenol A Exposure in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism Research.