Tests in animals have confirmed that an ingredient of plastic, bisphenol A (BPA) causes noticeable changes in the appearance of offspring if the mother had been exposed during pregnancy. The effect actually creates "fat yellow mice" in a line of mice that are known to be brown colored, and slim. These experiments in provide tantalizing evidence that what a pregnant mother eats can make her offspring more susceptible to disease later in life.
This phenomenon has spawned a new avenue of genetic research known as epigenetics, a name which refers to changes happening over and above the gene sequence without altering its code. In this case, Duke University investigators demonstrated that exposure within the womb to bisphenol A (BPA) caused changes in the offspring; along the way the team also discovered that administration of folic acid or genistein (an active ingredient in soy) during pregnancy would actually protect the offspring from the negative effects of BPA.
This study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, July 30, 2007.
The researchers found that when the mouse mothers received BPA, a significant number of their offspring were born with a yellow coat (this type of mouse is generally slim and brown). Yellow mice of this variety are at a much greater risk for obesity, cancer and even diabetes.
When pregnant mothers were given folic acid or genistein, the negative influence of BPA was counteracted, said the authors. There has been considerable debate in the United States and Europe about what levels of BPA are considered safe for human consumption. A number of US States have attempted to ban its use entirely.
Both genistein, an active ingredient in soy, and folic acid supplements are readily available in the supplements market, but there is no clear definition from this study or any other about the proper amounts to assure protection against BPA.
One of the lead authors of this study proposed that the reason Asians have much lower rates of obesity and certain cancers is that their diet typically includes greater use of soy products than Western diets. However, he pointed out, it is not known at what doses genistein would be protective or harmful in humans. Future studies would be needed to determine optimal doses. (Read more details on the Phsyorg.com article linked to the headline of this post).