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As many as 20 percent of infertile couples in the United States have unexplained reasons for their infertility. Now, new research led by Catherine Racowsky, PhD, director of the Assisted Reproductive Technologies Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), shows that exposure to BPA (Bisphenol-A) could be a contributing factor as to why some infertile couples are having difficulty conceiving. The study will be published online on July 31, 2013 in the journal Human Reproduction.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study that has shown that BPA has a direct effect on egg maturation in humans," said Dr. Racowsky. "Because exposure to BPA is so ubiquitous, patients and medical professionals should be aware that BPA may cause a significant disruption to the fundamentals of the human reproductive process and may play a role in unexplained infertility."
With about two million tons used worldwide each year, BPA is one of the highest-volume synthetic chemicals in the world, and it is found in the bodies of more than 90% of Americans. Traces of it leach from containers made of polycarbonate, which is a hard, clear plastic, and the epoxy linings of canned foods and beverages.
For the 1,455 U.S. adults tested, the more BPA in their urine, the higher their rates of heart disease and diabetes, according to research by a British team of scientists published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They also found a link between abnormal liver enzymes in people and BPA, suggesting that the chemical alters how the liver functions.
Until recently, the results from rat metabolism studies were assumed to be directly applicable to humans. However, a recent study performed by Völkel and coworkers with human volunteers indicates that humans metabolize orally administered BPA much more completely and more rapidly than rats. The results showed that BPA glucuronide is very rapidly formed and excreted in urine, and that this process is essentially complete within 24 hours. Practically none of the BPA is retained in the bodies of humans. These differences in metabolism need to be considered when extrapolating the results of toxicology studies from rodents to humans. For example, the more rapid excretion in humans leaves less time for interactions of BPA and its metabolites with tissues. For another, the very complete conversion to the BPA glucuronide means that effects in rodents due to the parent compound (BPA) are unlikely to be found in humans. The significance of such differences is explored more fully subsequently.