Plasticizers found in many objects we use every day can cause severe brain damage, according to a study published in Nature.
Plasticizers are substances that are incorporated into a plastic material to increase its flexibility and facilitate its transformation.
Biologists from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, showed that even small amounts of plasticizers can interfere with signal transmission in fish brain nerve cells.
Researchers consider it highly likely that plasticizers have a similar effect on the brain of adult humans.
This research has devoted special attention to specific plasticizers known as bisphenols, which are present in food packaging and until 2011 (which were banned in the EU) in bottle nipples. They are also used in the manufacture of water bottles and even toys.
One of these bisphenols, called bisphenol A (BPA), is a known endocrine disruptor, capable of altering the hormonal balance of organisms and damage the digestive system.
BPA is also believed to have effects on brain and prostate health in fetuses, infants, and children, as well as to affect blood pressure because it leaks into food.
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Confirmed Research by German scientists has been able to determine that BPA has more serious effects on neurons than previously thought.
Also that other plasticizers such as bisphenol S (BPS) are equally dangerous and can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.
The harmful effects of these bisphenols on the brain mainly affect the delicate balance between the different neural functions: while some brain cells transmit signals that trigger an arousal state in subsequent cells, other brain cells have the function of inhibiting subsequent cells.
Coordination of excitation and inhibition is essential for an intact central nervous system and is the one most affected by BPA and BPS, this research has determined.
Both plasticizers influence the action potential of neurons: they alter the chemical and electrical transmission of signals across synapses and disrupt circuits that are important for the perception and processing of acoustic and visual stimuli.
With goldfish The team detailed their findings through goldfish experiments. His attention was focused on the largest type of nerve cells in fish, known as Mauthner cells.
These cells are giant neurons located in the brainstem of fish and amphibians, whose function is to coordinate swimming movements and the flight reflex in these animals.
These neurons play a vital role for fish, processing all sensory input, even when predators are around. They trigger life-saving escape reactions.
During evolution, these neurons become particularly robust and can generally compensate for the damage suffered by any circumstance and maintain their functions.
The researchers found that, with just one month of exposure to BPA or BPS, the neuronal function of these fish was completely altered.
Also to the mature brain
Also to the mature brain Another even more alarming finding: the researchers were able to verify that both BPA and BPS can affect functionality in the mature brain.
This discovery is a novelty, because until now it was known that the mentioned plasticizers affected the development of the brains of the young.
“The findings obtained through studies on fish brains justify the evaluation that BPA and BPS can also seriously damage the brain of adult humans. In this context, it is essential that science and industry develop new plasticizers to replace these bisphenols, which are not safe for human health, ”says one of the researchers, Peter Machnik, from the Department of Animal Physiology at the University of Bayreuth, in a release.
Based on these results, the team of scientists calls for the development of alternative products that do not carry risks for the nervous system.
Furthermore, they believe their goldfish technique could be a valuable and inexpensive tool for testing how new plasticizers affect brain cells.
Reference Bisphenols exert detrimental effects on neuronal signaling in mature vertebrate brains. Elisabeth Schirmer et al. Communications Biology, Volume 4, Article number: 465 (2021). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-021-01966-w
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.