Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have increased blood levels of the widely used industrial chemical bisphenol A, a small study finds - raising the question of whether the compound plays some role in the disorder.
On average, 71 women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) had higher blood levels of bisphenol A, or BPA, than 100 healthy women of the same age and weight.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, do not prove that BPA contributes to PCOS. But the researchers say future studies should look into that possibility.
In their report, Dr Eleni Kandaraki of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary Hospital in the UK and colleagues note that BPA is an endocrine disruptor with weak oestrogen-like activity.
It's also ubiquitous. BPA has been used for decades to make hard plastic containers, including cups and baby bottles, and in the lining of metal food and beverage cans. Research suggests that most people have some amount of BPA in their blood.
Moreover, recent animal studies have suggested that BPA could play a role in certain cancers, heart disease and abnormal brain development in children.
The researchers can't explain why women with PCOS had higher blood levels of BPA than their healthy counterparts.
There's evidence, they note, that BPA and testosterone may act on each other. Testosterone seems to dampen the activity of an enzyme that helps clear BPA from the body, so it's possible that high testosterone levels cause women with PCOS to have higher BPA concentrations.
On the other hand, Dr Kandaraki's team writes, some research suggests that BPA can indirectly boost testosterone levels.
Animal studies have also hinted that BPA might affect insulin levels in the blood.
A role for BPA
Together, this prior research implies "a potential role" for BPA in the development of PCOS in some women, the investigators say.
"However, further investigation is required to elucidate the mechanisms linking BPA with PCOS and the possible clinical implications of these (current) findings," they conclude.
So far, the greatest concerns over BPA have centred on its potential health effects on foetuses, infants and young children, whose developing hormonal and nervous systems would be more vulnerable to any harm from the chemical.
Canada and the European Union have banned BPA from baby bottles, and many manufacturers have moved to voluntarily remove the chemical from infant bottles and cups.
Last year, the US National Institutes of Health said it would invest $30 million over two years to further study the human health effects of BPA. The Department of Health and Human Services has advice on its website, at http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa, for people who want to limit their exposure.(Reuters Health/ January 2011)
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