Tag Archives: science daily

BPA Links to Infertility

When the fertility doctor broke the news to us that my husband was struggling with his fertility, our first question was, “What’s causing it?” We wanted to know how we ended up there, and whether something could be done to solve the issue. The doctor explained that rarely do families determine the actual cause of infertility issues. A few expensive tests (often not covered by health insurance) are available to check the function of a woman’s reproductive system, but for most people who suffer through it, no explanation is found and doctors are left to simply treat the symptoms with fertility drugs or, as in our case, suggest the use of egg and/or sperm donors and adoption.

My first instinct was to suspect chemical exposure through his job as an auto technician. He’s touched and breathed an array of toxic chemicals over more than 25 years to maintain other people’s cars. My initial assumption was part of a culturally pervasive idea that increases in infertility could be due in part to subtle exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment.

One industrial chemical (and subsequent environmental pollutant), Bisphenol-A (BPA), found in hard plastics and known as an estrogen-disruptor and for its negative effects on the heart and central nervous system, has also recently been linked to changes in immune response within the uterus. Because of its chemical similarity to the hormone estradiol in the body, BPA binds to proteins meant to interact with estradiol.

Many Washingtonians are familiar with BPA because it was part of a phased ban in Washington State in 2010. By July 1, 2012, no one can make or sell reusable sports bottles, sippy cups, or baby bottles containing BPA in the state. Last year, Oregon considered a similar ban that would also add baby formula containers to the list along with warning labels to consumers.

New research in the March Journal of Reproductive Toxicology shows that mice exposed to BPA in their food can experience bacterial infections in the uterus (pyometra), a condition observed in cats and dogs.

Whether a causal link exists between BPA and human uterine infertility is too soon to tell. The study focused on pathological changes and not fertility rates and uterine changes due to BPA exposure haven’t been scientifically demonstrated in humans. However, this research will continue the scientific quest to understand what role subtle environmental exposures have on human fertility rates. My guess is that once the data are finally in, the list of toxic chemicals effecting fertility will be much longer than we ever suspected.

Instinct and Emotion

I’m a few minutes past 40 and occasionally I look back, playing the hindsight game, and wonder what I might have done differently. Of course, there are lots of little things I would change (hurting other people’s feelings and making a fool of myself float to the top of the list). But one of the bigger choices might be that I would have studied the brain, like the Watson of DNA decoders Watson and Crick. We poorly understand how much (or little) our brains influence human nature, decision-making, and personality.

I can’t help wanting to grasp how our brains influence writing, improv, parenting, relationships, and virtually every other outward expression of our being.

When I struggle with any situation, it’s a swirling battle between my brain and my emotions, but then I think, aren’t my emotions created by my brain? Why such conflict? If our brain is the original source of both, why do they have to battle, why haven’t we evolved to a place where instinct and emotion harmonize, where we respond more like the colony of poorly communicating ants that we are?

This morning I read an article What Can Animals’ Survival Instincts Tell Us About Human Emotion? over at Science Daily about a researcher who is trying to tease out these details.

New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux says that we still don’t understand the complex connection between instinct and emotion and that it will probably be some time before we do. Study in this area is slow. We’ve mapped the human genome and found cures for literally hundreds of diseases, but why do we understand the brain so poorly? It’s because you can’t get a reliable, scientifically verifiable answer out of a guinea pig about how he’s feeling today, and because even us “advanced” humans struggle to accurately interpret our own feelings. Did I freak out about my hubby’s inquiry about money because I was angry? Confused? Afraid? Sad? It was more likely a combination of several of these emotions, and it only took me three days of introspection to think I know.

I’m psyched that scientists who took the path that I did not are working on this, I just hope they solve this great mystery before I’m gone.