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Exposure to BPA in the womb linked to wheezing and poorer lung function in children, study finds

Pregnant women exposed to higher levels of the commonly used chemical bisphenol A (BPA) are more likely to have children who suffer with wheezing and poorer lung function, according to research presented at the 2019 ERS International Congress.

Previous research suggests that phenols are ‘endocrine disruptors’, which can interfere with hormone signals in the body. The new research examined pregnant women’s exposure to various phenols and found that the majority of women in the study had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Children born to women with higher levels of BPA were more likely to have smaller lung capacity and to experience wheezing.

The study was presented by Alicia Abellan, a predoctoral researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). Ms Abellan and her colleagues studied 2,685 pairs of mothers and their children who were already taking part in one of eight large European research projects. Levels of the mothers’ exposure to BPA and other phenols were gauged from a urine sample taken during pregnancy. The children’s lung function was measured when they were aged between six and 10 years. Questionnaires were also used to determine whether children suffered with wheezing.

The results showed that 79 per cent of the pregnant women had detectable quantities of BPA in their urine. Other less commonly used phenols, such as bisphenol S and bisphenol F, were also found, but in fewer women. Researchers discovered that women with higher levels of BPA were 13 per cent more likely to have children who suffered with wheezing. They also found that a doubling of BPA in a mother’s urine sample corresponded with an estimated 5ml decrease in a child’s lung capacity.

The researchers say their results are strengthened by the fact that they collated data from eight different European studies including a large number of participants. However, they say a potential weakness of the work is that they had to rely on measurements of phenols from just one or two urine samples per woman, which only gives a snapshot of recent exposure.

Ms Abellan said: “Our research doesn’t tell us exactly how the two are linked, but previous research in animals has shown that prenatal exposure to BPA can stunt the developing lungs and have an impact on the immune system. It could be that these chemicals interact with hormone signals in the growing baby and alter the correct development of the immune and the respiratory systems.

“Currently, there is no general consensus regarding a safe level of exposure to phenols, but recently the EU general court classified BPA among the list of ‘very high concern’ chemicals.”

Ms Abellan and her colleagues plan to continue this work by analysing BPA exposure and its effects on different wheezing patterns across childhood, as well as studying the effects of the other phenols that they found in lower concentrations.

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