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Researchers find link between plastic additive and autism, ADHD

by Rowan University

the bottle

Previous studies found associations between children with autism and exposure to BPA. This study has found that the reason for the link is decreased efficiency in a key step involved in BPA detoxification.


This study provides new evidence to support the idea that inefficiences in the 'detoxification' of some common environmental pollutants may play a role in both Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Researchers found that compared with typically developing children, significantly more of those diagnosed with either ASD or ADHD were less able to process a substance known as 'Bisphenol-A' (BPA) - a common additive found in plastic - in a way that enables it to be removed from the body. 

The predisposition to neurodevelopmental conditions like autism and ADHD is known to be complex and 'multi-factorial' - involving genetic and other biological risk factors, as well as psychological and social ones. These risk factors are also known to vary between individuals - helping to explain the variability within these groups.

Although many studies have linked increased exposure to BPA and related compounds - particularly in early life - to higher risks for ASD, ADHD and related conditions, this study provides the first 'hard' biological evidence of mechanistic differences that could help to explain these links. Notably, the detoxification problems identified were also at least as common in children with ADHD as they were in the ASD children.

BPA and other 'phthalates' are widespread environmental contaminents, and are still found in many kinds of plastic food and drink containers and packaging (although their use in bottles used for feeding babies and infants has long been restricted in most countries owing to their potential toxicity).

These findings suggest that reducing exposure to BPA and related substances may be of particular benefit to individuals with autism, ADHD and related conditions, although controlled trials would be needed to confirm this.  

Underlying research:

For further information on autism and ADHD please view our FAB webinar:

See also:

And for more information on this topic, please see the following lists of articles, which are regularly updated:

28/09/23 - Medical Xpress

The incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has greatly increased over the last few decades. The reasons are largely unknown, although environmental factors are believed to be important.
According to a new study published in the public access journal PLOS ONE by researchers at Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine and Rutgers University-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, children with ASD and ADHD often have a reduced ability to clear the common plastic additive, bisphenol A (BPA), from their bodies, thereby increasing their exposure to BPA.
Previous studies found associations between children with autism and exposure to BPA. This study, "Bisphenol-A and phthalate metabolism in children with neurodevelopmental disorders," has found that the reason for the link is decreased efficiency in a key step involved in BPA detoxification.
After BPA is ingested or inhaled, it is filtered from the blood in the liver through a process called glucuronidation. Glucuronidation is the process of adding a sugar molecule to a toxin. Doing so makes the toxin water soluble, allowing it to quickly pass out of the body through urine.
Humans show genetic variability in their ability to detoxify BPA. Genetically susceptible individuals have more difficulty detoxifying their blood through this process, meaning their tissues are exposed to BPA at higher concentrations for longer time periods.
The study showed that for a significant proportion of children with autism, the ability to add the glucose molecule to BPA is about 10% less than that of control children. For a significant proportion of children with ADHD, it's about 17% less.
The compromised ability to clear such environmental pollutants from the body is "the first hard biochemical evidence of what the linkage is between BPA and the development of autism or ADHD," said T. Peter Stein, the study's lead author and a Rowan-Virtua professor of surgery.

"We were surprised to find that ADHD shows the same defect in BPA detoxification."
More research is needed to determine whether autism and ADHD are developed in utero through increased exposure to the mother or to the child sometime following birth, Stein said.
There are likely to be other factors behind the development of autism and ADHD, Stein said. The inability to effectively clear these chemicals from the blood is not present in every child with the neurodevelopmental disorders, but compromised clearance of BPA is a "major pathway, otherwise it would not have been so readily detectable in a study of moderate size," Stein said.
The team measured the efficiency of glucuronidation in three groups of children recruited from Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School clinics: 66 with autism, 46 with ADHD and 37 healthy children.
The study's co-authors are Margaret D. Schluter and Robert A. Steer at the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine and Xue Ming at Rutgers University–New Jersey Medical School, Newark.