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Study: BPA Linked to Higher Testosterone Levels

Small Increase in Testosterone Levels in Men's Blood After Exposure to Plastic Chemical
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 26, 2010 -- Men who are exposed to high levels of the controversial plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) may show a small, but significant increase in blood levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, a study shows. These testosterone levels still remained within the normal range.

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Some preliminary research has linked elevated testosterone to an increased risk for heart disease and certain cancers, but whether BPA significantly affects testosterone and whether this has any effect on health remains unproven.

BPA is an ingredient found in the liners of some food cans, feeding cups, and baby bottles. Growing numbers of companies now offer BPA-free bottles. Citing "potential health concerns," the FDA has called for more study on BPA.

In the CHIANTI Adult population study, researchers measured BPA levels in the urine of 715 Italian men and women aged 20 to 74 over a 24-hour period. There were detectable levels of BPA in more than 95% of the men.

The average daily exposure was more than 5 micrograms of BPA per day, which is slightly higher than levels seen in U.S studies. Men who had the highest levels of BPA in their urine showed an increase in the amount of testosterone in their blood, the study showed.

"BPA is what's known as an anti-androgen. That means that it blocks the normal action of testosterone in the body and what we might be seeing is the body making more testosterone to overcome this," says study researcher Tamara Galloway, PhD.

Galloway is a professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Exeter, U.K. "The levels we saw in our study group were still within the normal range for healthy men, so we can't say for sure what the effects might be," she says in an email.

Second Opinion

"Small fluctuations in endocrine function could have a lot of consequences, some which may not have been characterized yet," says John Meeker, ScD, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, who has conducted studies on BPA and testosterone.

The new study "is adding to a small, but growing body of literature that background exposures to BPA could have potential health implications for people in the general population," he tells WebMD. "Human studies are limited, but there are a number underway so we should know a bit more about the human health risks of BPA exposure in the near future."

Meantime, Meeker, along with the FDA and other groups, suggest limiting exposure to BPA.

Some urge caution in drawing any conclusions based on the new findings.

"The bio-monitoring data represents exposure only over the last 24 hours. The study cannot establish a cause-effect relationship for any biological event that occurs at an earlier time," says Steven G. Hentges, PhD, of the Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group of the American Chemistry Council, a trade group in Arlington, Va.

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