Bisphenol-A -- also known as BPA -- is a controversial chemical found in items such as water bottles, soda cans, and even some paper products.
It has long been suspected that BPA is somehow linked to autism in children, but, until now, has not been documented.
A new study by researchers from Rowan University School of Medicine in Stratford and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark recently showed, for the first time, that BPA is not metabolized well in children with autism.
RowanSOM's Dr. T. Peter Stein, the study's lead author, said the study -- conducted on both children with autism and children without -- shows that BPA is processed differently in children on the autism spectrum.
"There are studies that show that BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor," Stein said. "There are different kinds of steroids (hormones) in the body -- testosterone, estrogen, progestins -- that regulate metabolism. It turns out that BPA is a compound that can cause problems."
But why would children with autism have a harder time metabolizing the BPA chemical?
"BPA interferes with amino acids," Stein said. "Some amino acids serve as starting material for neurotransmitters. That could be a connection."
These findings are especially significant because earlier studies involving the effects of BPA have only involved results as recorded in animals.
"Other studies involving rodent data have shown that BPA functions as an endocrine disruptor, but ours is the first to show this in humans, and the first to associate it to autism," Stein said.
While this study was conducted on a small group -- 46 children with autism and 52 without -- Stein said he hopes the findings will prompt other researchers to follow up with more testing.
"The key point is that the study seems to link BPA to autism, and creates an open area for further research," Stein said. "If we do that, we've accomplished something."