Does Bisphenol A (BPA) Cause Autism?

In this post, we will examine the research on BPA and its potential link to autism, as well as discuss the steps you can take to reduce your family's exposure to this chemical.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 18, 2023
min read

Does BPA Cause Autism?

The connection between Bisphenol A (BPA) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been a topic of discussion among scientists, medical professionals, and concerned parents for years. In this post, we will examine the research on BPA and its potential link to autism, as well as discuss the steps you can take to reduce your family's exposure to this chemical.

What is BPA?

Bisphenol A is a synthetic chemical compound used in the manufacturing of various plastic products, including food containers, water bottles, and even thermal paper receipts.

Its primary function is to make plastics more durable and resistant to heat. However, research has shown that BPA can leach from these materials, leading to human exposure.

The Concerns About BPA

BPA has been classified as an endocrine disrupting chemical, which means it can interfere with the body's hormone systems. This has raised concerns about potential health effects, particularly in vulnerable populations such as infants and children. Some studies have suggested that BPA exposure may be linked to various health issues, including:

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Obesity
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Behavioral issues

How does Bisphenol A (BPA) impact brain function and development?

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound commonly found in plastics and epoxy resins, which can potentially leach into food and beverages.

BPA is known to have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning it can interfere with the body's hormonal system. The effects of BPA on brain function and development are a growing concern due to its widespread use.

BPA can impact brain function and development in several ways:

  • Hormonal Disruption: BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, binding to estrogen receptors and disrupting the normal functioning of the endocrine system. This interference can lead to altered hormone levels, affecting brain development, behavior, and cognition.
  • Neurodevelopmental Effects: Research has shown that exposure to BPA during critical periods of brain development may result in long-lasting changes in neural structure and function. This can lead to cognitive deficits, attention problems, and increased susceptibility to neurological disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
  • Synaptic Plasticity: BPA has been shown to affect synaptic plasticity – the ability of neurons to strengthen or weaken connections in response to new experiences. Changes in synaptic plasticity can have significant implications for learning, memory formation, and overall cognitive function.
  • Oxidative Stress: BPA exposure can lead to oxidative stress in the brain, causing damage to cells and impairing normal brain function. This may contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Much of the research on BPA's effects on the brain has been conducted on animals, and more studies are needed to understand the full extent of BPA's impact on human brain function and development.

Nonetheless, taking steps to reduce exposure to BPA by using BPA-free products and avoiding canned foods can help minimize potential risks.

How does BPA affect children's behavior?

Since BPA can mimic the hormone estrogen and interfere with hormonal systems, it may have lasting effects on a child's brain development and function.

The association between BPA exposure and altered behavior in children has been observed in both animal and human studies. Some of the potential impacts of BPA on children's behavior include:

  • Hyperactivity: Studies have found an association between higher BPA exposure during pregnancy and increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention problems in children.
  • Aggression: Some research suggests that prenatal exposure to BPA may be associated with higher levels of aggression and other externalizing behaviors in young children.
  • Anxiety and depression: BPA exposure has been linked to increased anxiety and depressive symptoms in both animal models and human studies. These mood-related issues may result from disruptions in hormonal systems and alterations in brain structure or function.
  • Cognitive impairments: BPA exposure during critical periods of brain development can lead to changes in neural structure and function, potentially resulting in cognitive deficits. This may manifest as learning difficulties, poor academic performance, or problems with memory and executive functioning.
  • Social behavior: Some animal studies have shown that BPA exposure can affect social behaviors, such as social recognition and communication.

Reducing exposure to BPA by using BPA-free products and avoiding excessive contact with plastics may help minimize potential risks to children's health and behavior.

The Link Between BPA and Autism

The exact causes of autism remain unclear, but researchers believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the disorder. As a result, scientists have been investigating the potential role of environmental toxins, including BPA, in the development of autism.

Several studies have explored the relationship between BPA exposure and autism risk:

  1. Animal studies: Some animal studies have demonstrated that prenatal exposure to BPA can lead to changes in brain development and behavior that are consistent with ASD characteristics.
  2. Human studies: A few human studies have found associations between higher levels of BPA exposure during pregnancy or early childhood and an increased risk of ASD. However, these studies are limited by small sample sizes and other methodological issues.

Despite these findings, the current scientific consensus is that there is insufficient evidence to establish a causal link between BPA exposure and autism. More research is needed to determine whether BPA plays a role in the development of autism, and if so, to what extent.

BPA Exposure During Pregnancy and Its Effects on Unborn Children

Pregnant women and their unborn children are particularly vulnerable to the potential effects of BPA exposure. The developing fetus is highly sensitive to changes in hormone levels, which can have lasting consequences on brain development and overall health.

Prenatal BPA Exposure and Brain Development

Research has indicated that prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors like BPA may interfere with normal brain development in the fetus.

This can lead to structural and functional alterations in the brain, potentially increasing the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Placental Transfer of BPA

BPA can cross the placental barrier, meaning that when a pregnant woman is exposed to BPA, her unborn child may also be exposed. This highlights the importance of minimizing BPA exposure during pregnancy to protect both the mother and her developing baby.

Tips for Reducing BPA Exposure During Pregnancy

To reduce the risk of potential harm from BPA exposure during pregnancy, consider implementing these strategies:

  • Avoid using plastic food containers marked with recycling codes 3 or 7, as they may contain BPA.
  • Opt for glass or stainless steel containers when storing food or beverages.
  • Limit consumption of canned foods, as many cans are lined with a BPA-containing resin.
  • Use a water filter certified to remove contaminants like BPA from tap water.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before handling food or eating to minimize contact with residue from products containing BPA.

By taking these precautions during pregnancy, expectant mothers can help protect their unborn children from potential risks associated with BPA exposure.

Measuring BPA Exposure in Humans

Understanding the extent of BPA exposure in humans is essential for determining its potential health effects. Several methods have been developed to measure BPA levels in the body.

Biomonitoring Studies

One common approach to assess human exposure to BPA is through biomonitoring studies. These studies involve collecting samples of blood, urine, or other biological tissues and analyzing them for the presence of BPA or its metabolites.

Urinary BPA Levels

Urinary BPA levels are considered a reliable indicator of recent exposure since the majority of ingested BPA is rapidly metabolized and excreted through urine. By measuring urinary concentrations of BPA, researchers can estimate an individual's overall exposure.

Blood Serum Levels

Blood serum levels of BPA can also be measured to assess exposure; however, this method is less commonly used due to the invasive nature of blood collection and the fact that serum levels may not accurately represent total body burden.

Environmental Sampling

Another approach to estimating human exposure involves analyzing environmental samples, such as food packaging materials, household dust, and air samples.

By measuring the concentration of BPA in these sources and estimating daily intake rates based on consumption patterns, scientists can approximate an individual's cumulative exposure over time.

While these methods provide valuable information about human exposure levels, it is important to recognize that they do not necessarily indicate adverse health effects. Further research is needed to understand how different levels of BPA exposure correlate with specific health outcomes.

Reducing BPA Exposure

While the connection between BPA and autism remains uncertain, it's still a good idea to minimize your family's exposure to this chemical. Here are some tips to help you reduce BPA exposure:

  1. Avoid plastic containers with recycling codes 3 and 7: These plastics are more likely to contain BPA.
  2. Choose BPA-free products: Many manufacturers now offer BPA-free alternatives for baby bottles, sippy cups, and food storage containers.
  3. Use glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers: These materials do not contain BPA and are less likely to leach chemicals.
  4. Avoid microwaving plastic containers: Heat can cause BPA to leach from plastic into food or beverages.
  5. Wash your hands after handling receipts: Thermal paper receipts often contain BPA, and handwashing can help to minimize absorption through the skin.

Government Regulations and Recommendations on BPA Usage and Exposure Limits

Various governments around the world have recognized the potential health risks associated with BPA exposure and have implemented regulations and recommendations to limit its usage, particularly in products intended for infants and children.

United States

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken several actions to regulate BPA:

  • In 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.
  • In 2013, the FDA extended the ban to include infant formula packaging.

The FDA continues to monitor research on BPA's safety and maintains that current exposure levels are safe for most individuals. However, they also recommend taking steps to reduce exposure, especially for pregnant women, infants, and young children.

European Union

The European Union (EU) has enacted stricter regulations regarding BPA:

  • In 2011, the EU banned the use of BPA in baby bottles.
  • In 2016, restrictions were placed on using BPA in food contact materials for infants aged 0-3 years.
  • In 2018, a new regulation lowered the specific migration limit (SML) of BPA in plastic food contact materials from 0.6 mg/kg to 0.05 mg/kg.

These measures aim to minimize exposure to vulnerable populations while ensuring overall consumer protection.


Canada was one of the first countries to take action against BPA:

  • In 2008, Health Canada declared BPA a toxic substance under Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
  • In 2010, Canada prohibited the importation or sale of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.

Health Canada continues to evaluate scientific evidence on BPA's potential health effects while recommending steps for reducing exposure among sensitive populations.

While government regulations play a significant role in limiting public exposure to potentially harmful chemicals like BPA, it is essential for individuals to stay informed about the latest research and take proactive measures to minimize their exposure.


What is the main source of BPA exposure?

The primary source of BPA exposure is through ingestion of contaminated food and beverages due to leaching from plastic containers, cans lined with BPA-containing resins, and other consumer products. Other sources include handling thermal paper receipts and inhaling household dust containing BPA.

Are there any alternatives to BPA in plastics?

Yes, many manufacturers have started producing BPA-free alternatives for various products, such as baby bottles, sippy cups, and food storage containers. Some common replacements include Bisphenol S (BPS), Bisphenol F (BPF), and Tritan copolyester. However, it's essential to research these alternatives' safety as some studies suggest that they may also exhibit endocrine-disrupting properties.

Can I use a dishwasher to clean my plastic food containers safely?

It's best to hand-wash plastic food containers or place them on the top rack of the dishwasher if they are labeled as dishwasher-safe. High heat levels in dishwashers can cause plastics containing BPA to break down over time, increasing the risk of leaching into your food.

How can I identify if a canned product has a BPA lining?

Many canned goods contain a thin lining made from epoxy resins that may contain BPA. Some manufacturers label their cans as "BPA-free" if they do not use this type of lining. You can also look for alternative packaging options like glass jars or Tetra Pak cartons that do not use epoxy linings.

Is it possible to completely eliminate all sources of BPA exposure?

Completely eliminating all sources of BPA exposure might be challenging due to its widespread use in various consumer products. However, by following the recommended steps to reduce BPA exposure, you can significantly minimize your family's risk of potential health effects associated with this chemical.


While the link between BPA and autism is still a subject of ongoing research, it's essential to remain informed and take appropriate steps to reduce your family's exposure to this chemical. By following the tips provided in this post, you can help safeguard your family's health and contribute to a healthier environment.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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