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Have No Friends? It Might Be BPA's Fault

The chemical compound BPA has been linked to a host of bad health problems. Now there is a new problem it may be blamed for: Mice exposed to BPA just aren’t as social as other mice.

Among potentially toxic chemical compounds, few have been vilified in the public eye as much as BPA, an estrogen-mimicking compound used in plastic production that acts as an endocrine disrupter and has been linked to obesity, neurological changes, and increased risk of cancer. But forget your health; now it seems that BPA might make you a less fun person.

The study, published this week in the journal Endocrinology and conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and University of Missouri, put a dose of BPA into maternal mouse plasma—comparable to concentrations found in the blood of most Americans—and examined the behavior of their offspring.

The result: Gestational BPA exposure affected gene expression involved in social behavior—specifically, the first generation of mice exhibited fewer social interactions with their peers and less of a desire to spend time with adult males among juvenile males. The effects continued on into the next four generations of mice.

It’s not too surprising that BPA would do this. As we mentioned, it’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical. Steroid hormones (part of the endocrine system) regulate genes for things like vasopressin and oxytocin, which are chemicals that play a key role in expressions of social behavior. Oxytocin, for instance, helps us trust others. A chemical that disrupts that system could create changes in our social behavior.

Just because researchers found social changes among mice doesn’t mean that humans exposed to significant levels of BPA—that’s most of us—exhibit similar changes (just like eating yogurt might only make mice, not human, testicles larger). But, the researchers note, "Because exposure to BPA changes social interactions at a dose within the reported human levels, it is possible that this compound has transgenerational actions on human behavior." Considering the laundry list of other health problems linked to BPA, however, shyness doesn’t seem so bad.