Ethan A. Huff
March 2, 2013
Scientists from Duke University in North Carolina have identified yet another major threat to human health posed by the plastics chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). According to new research, babies exposed to BPA in utero, or during their developmental stages in the womb, could experience inhibited central nervous system development, which in turn could set them up for future stricken with neurodevelopmental problems.
Because it mimics the actions of estrogen, BPA is already known to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, causing a host of potential problems ranging from behavioral and weight abnormalities to reproductive and immune disorders. And while awareness of BPA’s dangers is on the rise all across the globe, there is still a minimal understanding as to how BPA exerts these negative effects, including how the chemical interferes with proper nervous system development.
So to gain a further understanding, researchers from Duke initiated a series of experiments designed to pinpoint the precise mechanisms by which BPA alters proper brain development. What they found is that BPA alters chloride levels inside cells by shutting down a gene known as KCC2 that is responsible for producing the KCC2 protein. Without this gene, cells are unable to properly transport chloride out of cells, which ends up damaging neural circuits and compromising normal brain development.
“It disrupts this process and it corrupts this process,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Liedtke, lead author of the study, to WUNC about BPA’s obstruction of the KCC2 gene. “And that, for example, would be a scenario that fits very nicely in the setting of neurodevelopmental diseases, where we see an exponential growth in the number of cases that are being diagnosed year by year.”
Is BPA exposure a cause of autism spectrum disorder?
Dr. Liedtke’s latter comment, of course, implies that widespread BPA exposure through food can linings, thermal paper receipts, plastic water bottles, and other sources may be a direct cause of the epidemic of neurodevelopmental diseases that are occurring all around the world. Such disorders include conditions such as Type I diabetes, Down Syndrome, and of course autism spectrum disorders, which have increased inexplicably by about 78 percent over the past decade.
“Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises questions as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders,” added Dr. Liedtke. “Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the KCC2 gene. However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from KCC2 are affected by BPA.”
Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now admitting that predisposed genetic factors are more than likely a red herring when it comes to explaining away the continuing rise of neurodevelopmental disease. As quoted in a recent Huffington Post piece, Diana Schendel, a CDC scientist with the agency’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, admitted that the widespread assumption that autism is largely a genetic condition “was perhaps made in error.”
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