The Scary Way BPA Exposure in Pregnancy Could Affect Your Sons

A recent study finds a surprising link between prenatal BPA exposure and mental health issues in adolescent boys.

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It’s no secret that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical component in some plastics, is something pregnant women need to avoid. As we’ve previously reported, BPA in the body acts as a synthetic estrogen that can mess with a pregnant woman’s hormones and affect fetal development. It can also derail the success of IVF treatments, lead to obesity, and even cause preterm birth.

Now, there’s yet another reason to fear BPA: A recent study finds a connection between BPA exposure and anxiety and depression—but only in boys.

Researchers from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH), part of the Mailmen Center for Public Health at New York’s Columbia University, examined 241 women and their children, collecting urine samples during pregnancy and in early childhood, to measure the amount of BPA the subjects had in their bodies. When the children were between 10 and 12 years old, researchers assessed their symptoms of depression and anxiety via interviews.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research, was controlled: Researchers only observed non-smoking women and accounted for socioeconomic factors (which have been shown to influence BPA exposure). The researchers also separated the children they observed by gender, finding that the boys with the highest levels of BPA exposure also had more symptoms of depression and anxiety.

No such link was found in the female children observed—but interestingly enough, a previous study tied BPA exposure to low birth weight in baby girls.

The team from CCCEH previously found that prenatal exposure to BPA was linked to “emotionally reactive and aggressive behavior,” and more symptoms of anxiety and depression in boys aged seven to nine.

"These findings are consistent with our prior reports on BPA and children's development assessed at earlier ages and suggest greater susceptibility of the male brain during prenatal development," says Frederica Perera, Ph.D., director of CCCEH. 

"Anxiety and depression are particularly worrisome because they can interfere with a child's ability to concentrate, perform in school, socialize and make friends,” added neuropsychologist and co-investigator Amy Margolis, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medical Psychology in Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

Unfortunately, BPA can be very difficult to avoid; it’s present in plastics, food packaging, and even store receipts. Luckily, the FDA has issued a formal ban on the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, but it’s also important to minimize your and your child’s exposure by using BPA-free water bottles and food containers, avoiding plastic utensils, and not touching store receipts. These small steps can go a long way.