The chemical BPA may cause infertility in women, according to a new study by Brigham and Women’s Hospitals (BWM). The study, published online in the journal Human Reproduction, is the first research of its kind to show that Bisphenol-A (BPA), affects how human eggs mature.

Manufacturers use BPA to make certain plastics and resins. Traces of BPA are present in water bottles, food cans, bottle tops and even in some water supply lines.

Dr. Catherine Racowsky, director of the Assisted Reproductive Technologies Laboratory at BWH and lead investigator on the study, and her team conducted a randomized trial using 352 discarded eggs from 121 patients who were undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. Researchers exposed these eggs to varying levels of BPH in a laboratory, setting aside one egg from each patient to serve as a control.

After exposing the eggs to BPA, Racowsky and her team noticed that the number of eggs reaching maturity decreased. The eggs that did reach maturity did not develop the bipolar spindles and aligned chromosomes that normal eggs do. Furthermore, researchers noticed that eggs exposed to BPA had a high incidence of spontaneous activation, an abnormal process in which an unfertilized egg behaves as if it had been fertilized.

BPA is prevalent in society; general populations of many developed nations are exposed to high levels of BPA on a daily basis. Plastics are usually inert under normal circumstances but exposure to UV light, acidic solutions or alkaline solutions and heat can cause BPA to leach into the environment. While health officials feel BPA is safe in small amounts, researchers continue to investigate the effects this chemical has on human health and reproduction.

Those concerned about exposure to BPA should look for BPA-free products, reduce consumption of canned food, and avoid putting plastics in the microwave or dishwasher. Women struggling with infertility should consult with a physician to learn more about BPA.

Source: Ronit Machtinger, Catherine M.H. Combelles, Stacey A. Missmer, Katharine F. Correia, Paige Williams, Russ Hauser, and Catherine Racowsky. Bisphenol-A and human oocyte maturation in vitro. Hum. Reprod. 2013 : det312v1-det312.