Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health's Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) have found that prenatal exposure to a common plastic chemical increases risks of developing depression and anxiety symptoms in boys.
For a study published in the journal Environmental Research, the researchers examined the effects of early life exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), a common component in plastics used in food containers, dental sealants, thermal receipt paper and water bottles. Their work is a continuation of study lead Frederica Perera's earlier research that reported that prenatal BPA exposure was associated with aggressive and emotionally reactive behavior in boys between the ages of 7 and 9.
A synthetic estrogen, BPA is part of a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. To measure how much of the chemical has been absorbed in the body of the study participants, the researchers gathered urine samples from nonsmoking pregnant women in their third trimester, as well as their children at ages 3 and 5. When they were 10 to 12 years old, the children engaged in an interview with a trained researcher to discuss their depression symptoms and filled out a self-assessment to measure their anxiety.
The study participants were part of a long-standing urban birth cohort study being carried out by the CCCEH in New York City.
Controlling for factors associated earlier with exposure to BPA and separating data by sex, the researchers saw that male children with the highest levels of BPA exposure before birth showed more symptoms associated with depression and anxiety compared to other male children with lower levels of prenatal BPA exposure. The researchers did not see the same association with data from girls.
"Anxiety and depression are particularly worrisome because they can interfere with a child's ability to concentrate, perform in school, socialize and make friends," said neuropsychologist Amy Margolis, a co-investigator in the study.
In another study, BPA exposure was associated with increased risks for preterm birth among pregnant women. It was suggested that the chemical causes abnormal inflammation that gives rise to pregnancy problems, which leads to preterm births. All the participants of that study had some level of exposure to BPA, hinting that contact with the chemical is unavoidable. However, that meant that a better understanding of how BPA affects maternal health is all the more needed to reduce risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Aside from behavioral issues, lung complications are also associated with prenatal BPA exposure. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of the chemical because they are sensitive to it.
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