Skip to main content

BPA, phthalate exposure may cause fertility problems

By Trish Henry, CNN
updated 5:18 PM EDT, Tue October 15, 2013
Bisphenol A, or BPA, and phthalates are often called "everywhere chemicals" because they're found in so many products -- from the water bottle you to take to the gym to the flooring in your kitchen. <a href=''>Scientists have voiced concerns</a> about these chemicals disrupting our bodies' hormones. Recent studies link them to a variety of fertility problems in men and women. The FDA says it is <a href='' target='_blank'>still investigating the safety</a> of BPA and <a href='' target='_blank'>monitoring our exposure</a> to phthalates to determine whether there is a risk. Bisphenol A, or BPA, and phthalates are often called "everywhere chemicals" because they're found in so many products -- from the water bottle you to take to the gym to the flooring in your kitchen. Scientists have voiced concerns about these chemicals disrupting our bodies' hormones. Recent studies link them to a variety of fertility problems in men and women. The FDA says it is still investigating the safety of BPA and monitoring our exposure to phthalates to determine whether there is a risk.
Products that contain BPA or phthalates
Plastic food containers
Nail polish
Dental sealants
Kids' toys
Canned food
Plastic wrap
Hair spray
Vinyl flooring
  • Research on BPA, phthalates presented at reproductive medicine conference
  • High BPA levels linked to miscarriages in women
  • High phthalate levels linked to 20% decline of fertility in men

(CNN) -- If you're having trouble getting pregnant or have suffered a miscarriage, some common household products may be partly to blame, new research suggests.

This week, scientists at the annual conference of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in Boston are presenting research linking chemical compounds in our environment to fertility issues. In several different studies, researchers met with healthy couples who were trying to have a baby and tested them for BPA and phthalates.

BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical used to make certain plastics and resins that are used in containers. BPA is also used in the coating of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Some studies have even found BPA in cash register receipts.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are used in products such as detergents, beauty products and children's toys. People are also exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking from containers containing them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous studies -- primarily in rodents -- have linked BPA exposure to many health problems, including reproductive disorders, but at this point the FDA says that it has "carefully assessed these studies and finds no convincing evidence to support that belief." Phthalates have been linked to health issues such as male sexual development and attention-deficit disorder in children. "It's not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on health," the FDA says, noting that there is insufficient evidence of harmful effects to take regulatory action.

BPA may reduce sperm count

More evidence may be on the way.

One study presented at the conference looked at 501 couples who were trying to become pregnant. The couples in the study were interviewed and examined and provided urine samples to measure their BPA and phthalate levels. They also kept journals about intercourse, menstrual cycles and pregnancy tests.

Researchers found that the men -- but not women -- with high phthalate concentrations experienced a 20% decline in fertility and took longer to get their partners pregnant than men with lower concentrations.

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormone systems, said American Society of Reproductive Medicine President Linda Giudice, who was not involved in the research.

If a couple is having trouble getting pregnant, they should try to minimize the male's exposure to phthalates, Giudice says.

"Phthalates are anti-androgens, and other studies have shown that environmental levels of phthalates in infertile men correlate with increased rates of sperm DNA damage, low sperm counts and abnormal sperm," she said.

In another smaller study presented at the conference, 114 women were asked to give blood samples four or five weeks into their pregnancies. The samples weren't tested for BPA until after the women gave birth to live babies or after they had a miscarriage if it occurred in the first trimester. Sixty-eight of the pregnancies ended in miscarriages.

Researchers concluded that women who had high levels of BPA in their blood were at "significantly increased risk of miscarriage compared to women with the lowest levels." They believe that more research on how this chemical affects pregnancy is urgently needed.

"We expected BPA exposure to be associated with an increased risk of aneuploidy (genetic defects in) miscarriages because of animal studies linking BPA exposure with chromosome abnormalities in eggs," study author Dr. Ruth Bunker Lathi said. "(But) we found BPA was higher in both chromosomally normal and abnormal miscarriages."

BPA may be linked to childhood obesity

Lathi suggests that the BPA "may be acting in other ways to cause miscarriages. We just don't know the mechanism at this time."

Researchers say they don't know why certain women in the study had higher BPA levels; they did not ask whether the women were doing specific things like leaving their plastic water bottles outside in the heat, something thought to increase BPA levels in the water dramatically.

It's not routine to do BPA testing in patients who are struggling to carry a child to term, said Dr. Dorothy Mitchell-Leef, a fertility expert at Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta who was not involved in the research. But, she says, studies like this further highlight the impact the environment can have on fertility and miscarriage. "It gives you one more thing to ask the patients about when you see unexplained miscarriages in patients."

Neither study showed an actual cause and effect. But Giudice says there are ways to minimize exposure to BPA if parents are worried.

She advises against leaving plastic water bottles in the car, microwaving plastic containers, eating canned foods and touching paper receipts that contain BPA. The FDA also warns against putting very hot or boiling liquid in plastic containers made with BPA if you plan to consume the water. That's because BPA levels rise in food when containers or products made with the chemical are heated and come in contact with the food, according to the agency. For that reason, the FDA also no longer allows BPA in plastic used to make baby bottles and toddler cups.

Part of complete coverage on
Science news
updated 3:34 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Nichelle Nichols has spent her whole life going where no one has gone before, and at 81 she's still as sassy and straight-talking as you'd expect from an interstellar explorer.
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The world's largest flying aquatic insect, with huge, nightmarish pincers, has been discovered in China's Sichuan province.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
As fans of "Grey's Anatomy," "ER" and any other hospital-based show can tell you, emergency-room doctors are fighting against time.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Ask 100 robotics scientists why they're inspired to create modern-day automatons and you may get 100 different answers.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
From the air, the Namibian desert looks like it has a bad case of chicken pox.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Sun May 25, 2014
Consider it the taxonomist's equivalent of a People magazine's Most Beautiful List.
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
For the first time, scientists have shown it is possible to alter the biological alphabet and still have a living organism that passes on the genetic information.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Do we really want to go the route of "Jurassic Park"?
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Catch a train from the sky! Perhaps in the future, the high-rise superstructures could help revolutionize the way we travel.
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu March 20, 2014
For a Tyrannosaurus rex looking for a snack, nothing might have tasted quite like the "chicken from hell."
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
Everyone is familiar with Tyrannosaurus rex, but humanity is only now meeting its much smaller Arctic cousin.
updated 12:12 PM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
At about 33 feet long, weighing 4 to 5 tons and baring large blade-shaped teeth, the dinosaur Torvosaurus gurneyi was a formidable creature.
updated 6:43 AM EST, Fri February 21, 2014
This Pachyrhinosaurus can go to the head of its class.
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Science is still trying to work out how exactly we reason through moral problems, and how we judge others on the morality of their actions. But patterns are emerging.
updated 7:06 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?
updated 8:07 PM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
Seattle paleontologists safely removed the largest fossilized mammoth tusk discovered in the region from a construction site.
updated 6:13 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
A mysterious, circular structure, with a diameter greater than the length of a Boeing 747 jet, has been discovered submerged about 30 feet underneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Every corner of the planet offers some sort of natural peculiarity with an explanation that makes us wish we'd studied harder in junior high Earth science class.
updated 8:20 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
Deep in a remote, hot, dry patch of northwestern Australia lies one of the earliest detectable signs of life on the planet, tracing back nearly 3.5 billion years, scientists say.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
We leave genetic traces of ourselves wherever we go -- in a strand of hair left on the subway or in saliva on the side of a glass at a cafe.