Science

BPA-like chemicals likely causing "alarming" damage to brain cells

BPA-like chemicals likely caus...
Plasticizers like BPA and BPS are used commonly in plastic products, and research is continuing to illustrate the risk they pose to human health
Plasticizers like BPA and BPS are used commonly in plastic products, and research is continuing to illustrate the risk they pose to human health
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Through experiments on goldfish, scientists have demonstrated how common plasticizers can impact brain function
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Through experiments on goldfish, scientists have demonstrated how common plasticizers can impact brain function
Dr. Peter Machnik in the lab at the Univeristy of Bayreuth
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Dr. Peter Machnik in the lab at the Univeristy of Bayreuth
Plasticizers like BPA and BPS are used commonly in plastic products, and research is continuing to illustrate the risk they pose to human health
3/3
Plasticizers like BPA and BPS are used commonly in plastic products, and research is continuing to illustrate the risk they pose to human health
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Controversy has shrouded the once-common plasticizer BPA since studies started to highlight its links to a whole range of adverse health effects in humans, but recent research has also shown that its substitutes mightn't be all that safe either. A new study has investigated how these compounds impact nerve cells in the adult brain, with the authors finding that they likely permanently disrupt signal transmission, and also interfere with neural circuits involved in perception.

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been commonly used in food, beverage and other types of packaging for decades, but experts have grown increasingly concerned that it can leech into these consumables and impact human health in ways ranging from endocrine dysfunction to cancer. This came on the back of scientific studies revealing such links dating back to the 1990s, which in turn saw the rise of "BPA-free" plastics as a safer alternative.

One of those alternatives is bisphenol S (BPS), and while it allows plastic manufacturers to slap a BPA-free label on their packaging, more and more research is demonstrating that it mightn't be much better for us. As just one example, a study last year showed through experiments on mice that just like BPA, BPS can alter the expression of genes in the placenta and likely fundamentally disrupt fetal brain development.

Adding their voices to the discussion are scientists from the University of Bayreuth, who conducted an electrophysiological study on the nerve cells of goldfish that were subjected to both BPA and BPS over the course of one month. These experiments focused on the two largest nerve cells in the fish brain, the Mauthner cells, which are involved in the processing of all sensory stimuli and help the vertebrates escape predators.

Through experiments on goldfish, scientists have demonstrated how common plasticizers can impact brain function
Through experiments on goldfish, scientists have demonstrated how common plasticizers can impact brain function

Using intracellular in vivo recordings, the team found a breakdown in the key coordination between brain cells that inhibit downstream cells and others that excite downstream cells, a delicate relationship that is necessary for a healthy nervous system. The team found that the plasticizers impact the chemical and electrical transmission of the signals via the synapses and, furthermore, interfere with circuits that are key to processing acoustic and visual stimuli. A breakdown in the excitation-inhibition relationship has been linked to a range of nervous system disorders.

"We were surprised how many vital brain functions in fish are affected by the plasticizers used in numerous industries," says Elisabeth Schirmer, first author of the study. "This damage, as we were able to show, does not occur immediately. However, when the brain cells are exposed to small amounts of BPA or BPS for a month, the damage is unmistakable."

The researchers describe the findings around the effects of "environmentally relevant" concentrations of plasticizers on the mature vertebrate brains as clear and alarming, and consider it very likely that they affect the adult human brain in similar ways.

"The findings obtained through studies on fish brains justify the assessment that BPA and BPS can also seriously damage the brains of adult humans," says study author Dr. Peter Machnik. "Against this background, it is essential that science and industry develop new plasticisers to replace these bisphenols, while being safe for human health."

The research was published in the journal Communications Biology.

Source: University of Bayreuth

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14 comments
verdico
Here's a better idea, why don't we start banning plastics for anything food related.
Daishi
Along these lines I'm sure we will learn that all the artificial sweeteners we have replaced sugar with are probably harming our bodies in ways we didn't initially foresee too. School and gym class hasn't really changed, we had video games too, and children dieting was almost unheard of. Now childhood obesity has exploded in a generation and you see overweight children drinking diet sodas. At least in the US the obesity epidemic coincides with 2 important trends in the food industry: The move away form sugar towards other sugar substitutes and the move towards "fat free" products that offset that change by adding more sweetener (ie sugar and sugar substitutes). Just like DDT, the tobacco industry, and leaded gasoline I'm sure a lot of things we do and use today we will look back on in the future as harmful.
1stClassOPP
So, how did the scientists introduce the BPA/BPS to the fish? I’m my untrained reasoning, it would only be a valid demonstration if the fish were allowed to swim/live in a bowl or container made of that material for a period of time. I imagine the scientists used some pure form of the substance to contaminate the fish environment to push their theories. No mention in the article about their process.
JABPACK
I think you will find with some research that no PET bottled water product ever used bisphenol A, S or any other letter. Why then, do articles like this keep showing water bottle products. Not that I am a big fan of them, but it is dis-information. Polycarbonate bottles and carriers for infant formula bags did use PBA, but that has been abandoned as has food can lining polymers. Carefully research what you are promoting.
Username
@verdico Of course that would be the way to go. Unfortunetly it would require some sort of intelligence at work.
Signguy
Daishy: And in each case, including Asbestos, Fluoride, DDT, tobacco, and a myriad of other things, they have ALWAYS KNOWN from the beginning they were TOXIC!
aksdad
First of all, this is a narrowly defined study of electrical signals in response to danger stimuli in the brains of goldfish. It can't reasonably be extrapolated to indicate overall "health" of neurons in the brain in fish, let alone humans. In this study BPA and BPS appeared to increase the efficiency of the acoustic stimulus while decreasing the optical stimulus of the neuron.

Secondly, it used concentrations of BPA and BPS far greater than environmental concentrations, anywhere from hundreds of times higher to 100,000 times higher, but the study claims that the "lower" amount (10 µg/l) is an "environmentally relevant concentration". Yeah, if you're a fish in a vat of BPA solution at a plastics plant.

Lastly, no properly controlled studies have found BPA causes harm in animals or humans at doses that they would be exposed to in the environment. Most international regulatory agencies have concluded that non-occupational BPA exposures do not pose a credible risk to humans. The only studies that show potential problems used very high doses (like this one) or failed to compare the incidence of biological issues with the ones in the control group, suggesting that they were within the range of normal biological variation.
sam12
Some people can be so cavalier about what goes into one’s body, even if we are not exposed to dangerously high doses does not mean a little is harmless. Too much is unknown about long term exposure and scale of damage to small dosage. It’s better to err on the safe side and ban all form of plastics from food packaging. It has also been a bane to the environment as well. Humans lived without them for most of civilisations, there is no need to becoming a lazy throwaway society.
Johannes
@1stClassOPP Read the journal article - no imagination needed. BPA/BPS was introduced to the water the fish lived in. Having the fish live in a tank made from plasticised material would have been an uncontrolled experiment.
Johannes
@aksdad 10 ug/L is definitely possible, in Europe and North America as well as Asia. In fact 100 ug/L is possible. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4674187/