Fetal exposure to small amounts of natural and man-made “hormone mimics,” or endocrine disruptors, like soy products and plastics appears to have strong, multi-generational effects. Those are the results presented by North Carolina State University faculty members at a symposium held during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Diego on Saturday, Feb. 20.
NC State’s Dr. John Vandenbergh, professor emeritus of biology, and Dr. Heather Patisaul, assistant professor of biology, discussed the effects of natural and synthetic hormone mimics on human and animal health, fertility and puberty. Hormones have powerful influences on the development of animals and humans, especially during the fetal period. Studies of early exposure to reproductive hormones – such as estrogen and testosterone – on lab animals reveal long-term consequences on the nervous and reproductive systems.
The symposium centered on the effects of a compound in plastics called bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is a chemical found in baby bottles, water bottles, canned foods and an array of other consumer products. The potential effects of BPA on human health are under strong scientific debate.
The symposium research reported that exposure to BPA resulted in disruption of brain pathways that regulate reproductive physiology and behavior in female rodents. About 93 percent of the people in the United States are exposed BPA. A recent study reported that infants in neonatal intensive care units show BPA concentrations up to 10 times higher than in adults.
Strikingly, the research showed that fetal exposure to endocrine disruptors may result in second- and even third-generation effects.
“Your daughters and even your granddaughters may be affected by exposure to endocrine disruptors that occurred during your fetal development,” Vandenbergh says.
The research also showed that extremely small amounts of endocrine disruptor compounds have remarkably strong effects. This finding is particularly significant in view of the widespread environmental exposure to such compounds, Vandenbergh says.
Vandenbergh organized the AAAS annual meeting symposium, titled “Consequences of Endocrine Disrupting Agents in the Laboratory and Home”; Patisaul served as a speaker. They were joined by panelists from academia and industry.
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