ASTHMA
October 9, 2014

The Chemical Behind Asthma's Rising Rates?

BPA exposure has been linked to a number of birth defects and fertility problems. Now it appears it may be behind breathing problems.

Many of us, especially parents, have concerns over plastics containing BPA. More than 2.2 million tons of the compound BPA — formerly known as bisphenol A — were produced in 2009.

Even though numerous studies have found a relationship between blood levels of the chemical and a variety of developmental problems, cancer, and obesity, the World Health Organization determined in 2010 that regulations limiting the use of BPA were not necessary. And in 2013, the FDA supported the safety of BPA for use in food containers and packaging.

While the verdict still may be out regarding BPAs, a new study provides evidence that the compound is, in fact, associated with diminished lung function and the development of wheezing in children. Indeed BPAs may be behind the spike in the rates of asthma, particularly among children.

A 10-fold increase in BPA exposure translated to a 14 percent decrease in lung function at four years of age.

Rates of asthma have steadily increased over the past few decades and researchers now believe environmental factors may be contributing to the rise. Tobacco smoke and pollution are obvious culprits, but some studies have also implicated BPAs.

The research team, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, focused on whether a mother's exposure to BPA was associated with a pediatric lung function, wheezing, and a specific pattern of wheezing that occurs in children under the age of five.

Nearly 400 mother-infant pairs participated in the study, with BPA exposure assessed throughout the pregnancy. The investigators found that a 10-fold increase in BPA exposure translated to a 14 percent decrease in lung function at four years of age. Interestingly, the same association was not seen at five years of age. This 10-fold increase in BPA exposure also translated to a 54 percent increase in the odds of wheezing.

While BPA exposure was not linked to a particular type of wheezing, a 10-fold increase in exposure was linked to a 4.2-fold increase in the odds of persistent wheezing. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, so its action on the body is likely to be widespread and indirect; this may be why a clearer connection to lung function has not yet been established.

“We found that prenatal BPA exposure that occurred during early pregnancy was inconsistently associated with diminished lung function, increased odds of wheeze and a persistent wheeze phenotype in young children,” the study authors said in a statement.

The research findings add to growing concerns over the effects of BPA exposure on our health. Future studies are needed to confirm whether prenatal BPA exposure is a risk factor for impaired respiratory heath and may provide valuable information that can be used to prevent childhood asthma.

The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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