THURSDAY, Dec. 6, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers who found the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in the livers of fetuses say it shows that there is considerable exposure to the chemical during pregnancy.
They also found evidence that fetuses are less able to eliminate the chemical from the body than adults.
Previous animal studies have linked BPA, a chemical used in plastic bottles and metal food and beverage cans, with breast and prostate cancer, and reproductive and behavioral problems. Some research in humans has tied BPA to cardiovascular disease, miscarriage, decreased semen quality and childhood behavioral issues.
The University of Michigan team analyzed the livers of 50 first- and second-trimester fetuses. They found a wide range of BPA levels in the livers, with some fetuses showing high levels of exposure, according to the study, published online Dec. 3 in the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology.
They also discovered that the livers had three times higher levels of free BPA than the conjugated forms modified by the body for elimination.
"The finding of free BPA in fetuses is significant," study senior/corresponding author Dana Dolinoy, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences, said in a university news release.
After discovering the elevated levels of free BPA, the researchers examined the enzymes in the fetuses' livers responsible for metabolizing the chemical and compared them to those in adults' livers.
"Our research shows that the argument that (BPA is) so rapidly metabolized is not true in fetuses," Dolinoy said.
The researchers say that the internal dose of BPA is critical for determining ill effects on human health.
BPA gets into the body by ingestion, inhalation and skin contact. Some scientists believe the chemical may affect metabolism and play a role in diabetes and obesity.
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more about bisphenol A.