Biologists Raise Alarm: Brain Damage Caused by Even Small Amounts of Plasticizers

Brain Glitch Stress Disorder Concept

The plasticizers contained in many everyday objects can impair important brain functions in humans. Biologists from the University of Bayreuth warn of this danger in an article in Communications Biology. Their study shows that even small amounts of the plasticizers bisphenol A and bisphenol S disrupt the transmission of signals between nerve cells in the brains of fish. The researchers consider it very likely that similar interference can also occur in the brains of adult humans. They, therefore, call for the rapid development of alternative plasticizers that do not pose a risk to the central nervous system.

Bisphenols are plasticizers that are found in a large number of plastic products worldwide — for example, in food packaging, plastic tableware, drinking bottles, toys, tooth fillings, and babies’ dummies. In recent years, numerous health risks have already been associated with them, especially with bisphenol A (BPA). The Bayreuth research team led by Dr. Peter Machnik at the Animal Physiology research group (led by Prof. Dr. Stefan Schuster) has now for the first time investigated the effects of plasticizers on signal transmission between nerve cells in the adult brain. The study covers not only BPA, but also bisphenol S (BPS), which is often considered less harmful to health. Their findings: Both plasticizers impair communication between the nerve cells of the brain.

Mauthner Cell

Microscopic image of the Mauthner cell of a goldfish. The cell was stained using neurobiotin/streptavidin-Cy3. Credit: Peter Machnik

Permanent damage to the nervous system

The harmful effects on the brain mainly affect the delicate balance between different neuronal functions. While some brain cells transmit signals that trigger a state of excitation in downstream cells, other brain cells have the function of inhibiting downstream cells. However, the coordination of both excitation and inhibition is essential for an intact central nervous system. “It is well known that numerous disorders in the nervous system of vertebrates are triggered by the fact that excitatory signals and inhibitory signals are not or only inadequately coordinated. So, it is all the more alarming that the plasticizers BPA and BPS significantly impair precisely this coordination,” explains Dr. Peter Machnik, lead author of the study.

“We were surprised how many vital brain functions in fish are affected by the plasticizers used in numerous industries. This damage, as we were able to show, does not occur immediately. However, when the brain cells are exposed to small amounts of BPA or BPS for a month, the damage is unmistakable,” says Elisabeth Schirmer, a doctoral student from Bayreuth and first author of the study. It turns out that the plasticizers influence the action potential of brain cells. They alter the chemical and electrical transmission of signals through the synapses. In addition, they disrupt the circuits that are important for the perception and processing of acoustic and visual stimuli.

Peter Machnik

Dr. Peter Machnik in one of the laboratories at Animal Physiology at the University of Bayreuth. In the background: Set-up for the electrophysiological study of nerve cells in the brains of fish. Credit: Christian Wißler

Studies on Mauthner cells in goldfish

The discovery of the damage caused by plasticizers came from detailed studies on live goldfish. The focus was on the two largest nerve cells in fish brain, the Mauthner cells. They integrate all sensory stimuli, all of which must be processed quickly and in a precisely coordinated manner when predators approach. In this case, the Mauthner cells trigger life-saving escape reactions. Due to this function, which is essential for survival, they have become particularly robust in the course of evolution. Mauthner cells are able to ward off damaging influences to a certain extent, or to compensate for damage afterwards. This makes it all the more significant that plasticizers are able to cause considerable damage to these cells.

Goldfish in Animal Physiology Laboratory

Goldfish in an Animal Physiology laboratory at the University of Bayreuth. Credit: Christian Wißler

Transferability of the results to humans — Demand for alternative plasticizers

“The findings obtained through studies on fish brains justify the assessment that BPA and BPS can also seriously damage the brains of adult humans. Against this background, it is essential that science and industry develop new plasticizers to replace these bisphenols, while being safe for human health,” says Dr. Peter Machnik. Prof. Dr. Stefan Schuster adds: “The efficiency of the research techniques we used in our study could, in addition, prove a valuable aid in the development of alternative plasticizers. They make it possible to quickly and inexpensively test how a substance under consideration affects brain cells.”

Reference: “Bisphenols exert detrimental effects on neuronal signaling in mature vertebrate brains” by Elisabeth Schirmer, Stefan Schuster and Peter Machnik, 12 April 2021, Communications Biology.
DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-01966-w

The research was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of a Reinhart Koselleck project.

57 Comments on "Biologists Raise Alarm: Brain Damage Caused by Even Small Amounts of Plasticizers"

  1. Southvalleyfox | June 20, 2021 at 2:26 am | Reply

    Gee, I wonder what the rich men will do? Think Biden will treat this info as the life ending mess they made (again) will urgency?
    Humanity, and everything else, is cooked.

  2. BibhutibhusanPatel | June 20, 2021 at 4:35 am | Reply

    Pollutions of everý kind along with threat due to incread not proporly destroyed plastic waste mùstbe checked.On the other hand strict necessady ìs there to cultue natùre and preserve natural habitations includig the tenants wìth due care.

  3. BibhutibhusanPatel | June 20, 2021 at 4:46 am | Reply

    Equal imprtance is present for civilization as well as the habitants grown by nature.Bùt pollution of every kind created by cìvilians due to modern uses must be checked.

  4. Frans Badenhorst | June 20, 2021 at 4:55 am | Reply

    Stop manufacturing it then… And fluorescent bulbs

  5. We stopped using florescent bulbs since LED became available in the USA. IM NOT sure how anyone can ingest these bispenols.

  6. I don’t know what Biden has to do with this.

  7. Is it just by ingesting the plastics or an animal that ingested it? They don’t say how we expose ourselves to it.

    • Do you eat microwave tv diners? How about bottle beverages? Swipping a credit card to pay for purchases… Your toothbrush? Um the elastic in your breifs… Socks. It’s in shampoo ..toilet seats…um medical gloves (non latex) it’s a chemical it leaches under heat… Hello global warming!!! Heating these plastics you now breath it in..aka like new car smell.

  8. Even with LED there is no escape. They can damage the retina of the eye. I replaced my amalgams with composite, now I find they have BPA. There is no way out.

  9. roger nelson | June 20, 2021 at 7:06 pm | Reply

    wrong..no mention how it would get to the human brain. need the story on how it would get to the human brain… gasoline will kill you if you drink it, do we stop making gasoline because it will kill you.

    • That part is common knowledge, you contact it in your environment on, in, or coating things you ingest, like food or water. Or by eating animals who have eaten contaminated things. Or from surface contact, or even aerosolized, in water sources, etc. if it’s small enough (like microplastics). There’s a lot of research about how widely they can be found, even in places you wouldn’t expect, like the Arctic, and the abyssal ocean.

  10. Any time heat or acidity (lemonade, soda) are applied to BPA/BPS containing products the BPA/BPS leeches out. It winds up in our food, our environment & breaks down in the ocean winding up in all marine life. Fun side note: BPA started as a birth control. So, not only does it mess with your brain but it also reeks havoc on your endocrin system

    • They say you cannot go for one day without touching somthing made of plastic.(it’s true.)

    • Ride past Waldo mart and look at all of the cases of water baking in the sun….how many people microwave food using margarine spread containers…venison has been shown to have plastic compounds in it….and as someone else mentioned, the plastic slurries in the Pacific Ocean, test the marine life….they ingest it, we ingest them, now we have plastics in our system….it IS everywhere, another tid bit…look into how mothers are unknowingly transferring chemicals through the placenta to their unborn children by the use of and consumption of plastics and other toxic items

  11. Farting, although a very good stress release has been known to cause permanent brain damage if one is subjected to repeatedly inhaling butt-air. Study finds it best to fill up balloons sell them at birthday parties to make money for brain surgery.

  12. I incorrect if I say that years ago plastic caused the frogs (male) to turn female and also exhibit other weird mutations?

  13. Start a petition please somebody do something and be able to get rid of chloride and fluoride completely in water! SMART people would do this to make a killing!

  14. Thag Janssen | June 21, 2021 at 4:06 am | Reply

    Wait! These findings are meaningless without concurrence from the American Chemistry Council.

  15. Shane Morlan | June 21, 2021 at 6:05 am | Reply

    The BPA leaches into water in bottled water, particularly when bottles are not stored in optimal conditions, such as if exposed to sunlight. I think I also heard that as plastics age/ break down they release the BPA. We’ve consumed it for decades from reheating food in Tupperware. It’s no wonder it seems so many kids have attention deficits etc. The remaining Koch brother need to be burned at the stake.

  16. Huh… wonder if its the cause of M.S.

  17. What about the plastic that passes PAST the
    “BRAINS BLOOD FILTERS” THAT DONT STOP THE PLASTIC FROM
    ENTERING THE HUMAN BRAIN, WHICH THEY HAVE FOUND……

  18. I am pretty sure you will release BPA in water bottles and those “microwave” ready plastic bowls. I never use them. It just does not make sense, i cringe when i see people putting plastic in microwave…

  19. Laser receipts have high amounts of bpas, way more than containers. Gets in through your skin.

  20. Since I was a young girl, I could not stand to see anyone litter. I realized at approx. 10 yrs old that plastic wraps around candy and treats DID NOT break down and get absorbed into the earth. I decided then that I would pick up any wrappers and dispose of them properly. But, still how would wrappers ever go away short of burning (and more chemicals in the atmosphere). We, the consumers have our responsibility to clean up the environment whereas the manufacturers had no reason to change unless it is forced upon them. Thru the years, I wondered why plastic ware heated in a microwave causes the plastic to burn and bubble. What in the world are we ingesting? Hmmmm… Well, here we are decades later and the same problems still exist. I still pick up non-degradable wrappers, still dispose of my straws (I cut them up so no animal ingest them), and still avoid heating plastic in a microwave. But, there really is no escape. Companies are not required to fix the wrapper problem or switch over to biodegradable solutions. I still see bubbles in microwaved plastic ware. I’m still cutting up my straws, and I’m still picking up non biodegradable candy wrappers. And, companies are still making mega profits. There has to be ramifications to this. And, it’s not taking candy away forever! (lol) The only way thru this is to demand individual responsibility and corporate change. Let’s see how many more decades this takes?

  21. My brother has progressive MS. It’s usually diagnosed in early 20s, meaning that whatever causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, exposure must start young. Bottles, toys, drink cups, soda bottles, toothbrush!, fillings, heating food in plastic, microwave components, vehicle interiors, there’s literally daily exposure for children starting at birth.

    • I have RRMS, genetics and everything from day one on play into how slow or fast your immune system beats on your nervous system…mine hit me at 39…Dr Terry Wahls TedX speak was my saving grace.

      Plastics of some sort or another are in just about everything…avoid as much as you can…reminds me of sugar

  22. Unfortunately until an equally cheap and preserving material is invented, the world won’t stop using it. Its about cost, and usually anything invented of worth will decimate the natural limited resource it comes from. If not plastizers, some detrimental effect of something invented thats artificial will arise. How many diffrent things in your house right now that cause some sort of harm to you? Alot if this does. This is just a tax payer pit hole of needless govt funding that will have zero results.

  23. Molly it could also be glyphosate (roundup) that has altered the sexual biology of frogs. We consume/absorb trace amounts of it daily in our GMO foods and clothing. The lawyers and politicians need their mansions in the hills. Convince them otherwise.

    • Foods don’t have to be GMO to be contaminated with glyphosate. Roundup-ready corn and that sort of thing is not even close to the only source. It’s an herbicide, not a pesticide, so organic farms can use it too. Some farmers spray all their crops with it because it’s September and that’s when you spray the cabbage, etc etc

  24. Laurie Sellick | June 22, 2021 at 7:30 am | Reply

    I believe that some plastics are bad. What I do not understand is why they let bottled water out in the sun at all stores heat causes chemicals in the plastic to release harmful chemicals. Also I’ve researched margarine verses butter. Margarine is one step away from plastic. Leave a tub or block out and no insect will touch it…

  25. Laurie Sellick | June 22, 2021 at 7:42 am | Reply

    Go back to glass containers for most anything or the waxed milk cartons. Aluminum cans are ok to a point but I believe plastic has no place in the food chain. The meat trays be replaced by paper wrap. Open back up the meat markets to the consumers. Have the dairy farms open up stores to purchase straight to them. The FDA and EPA grades our food chain complain to them. Research is more of a FYI type information. They can only tell you what’s going on, whether here in the united states or abroad we drink from plastic of all kinds eat out of plastic use plastic to eat with. Find out who’s responsible for making this plastic society happen.

  26. Plasticizers breakdown in the trash pile in the Pacific and become microplastics in rain clouds. They have found them at 14000 ft in Colorado. Ergo they’re in your drinking supply. Bpa s line most cans and water bottles. That’s how they are ingested.

  27. So we’ve all been using plastics for decades- are we all doomed?

  28. Ridiculous story since it gives zero info on how we get exposed to these dangerous plasticizers and how to avoid them.

    • That’s because how it gets ingested is well known at this point. It’s in clouds, rain the ground, animals and plants we eat, things we touch, things in our homes that aerosolize in heat, etc. It happens in all the normal ways that you come into contact with anything else. You ingest, breathe or touch it

  29. Shira Sorensen | June 22, 2021 at 11:33 am | Reply

    We are CONSTANTLY breathing, absorbing(thru skin), ingesting PLASTIC and ALL the chemicals it contains; we wear Polyester which is 100% shedding plastic. We sleep in Microfiber which is also 100% plastic and it’s shedding is 500% worse than Acrilics and Polyester! When washed, Microfiber sheds enormously and where does that plasticized water go to? That’s right, OUR OCEANS. We drink out of plastic bottles, we eat food packaged in plastic; the food absorbs the shedding plastic which we then ingest. AND SO ON. Why the hack did they need to replace our perfect cotton clothes??!! Why are they replacing natural rubber with spandex??!! Why did they replace cork and leather with God-knows-what they make our shoes of now??!!

    Our authorities HATE nature, HATE humans, and want to take REVENGE on God(think Eliah vs Ba-al(Ba-al’s defeat)). That’s why they do everything they can to destroy our perfect world.

    I don’t know about you guys and galls but I’m buying air-purifying plants and 100% Cotton bedding and clothes!

  30. Bpa is everywhere. Soda cans are lined with bpa. Most of our food and drinks are wrapped in some type of plastic which many contain bpa. Carpet, the latex paint we use and flooring also contain plastics along with even our shampoo bottles. Throughout the day we ingest small amounts of it and some gets in our system through our skin. This is a real problem.

  31. Alexandra Tarrou | June 22, 2021 at 6:07 pm | Reply

    Nothing is safe anymore be thankful for everyday I truly believe this chemical warfare been going on for years part of thier plan to destroy humanity I may be wrong idk but with everything else and eyes wide open I believe it is possible 🙏

  32. Captain Obvious | June 23, 2021 at 6:33 am | Reply

    So quick to condemn. How many have thought about the lives saved. Plastics keep food fresh longer, help prevent transmission of disease, they used in hospitals and everywhere you look. Without plastics many of you would already be dead…or never existed. I hope we continue to improve our manufacturing, but let’s not forget how life changing plastic has been.

  33. Phillip Fries | June 23, 2021 at 6:53 am | Reply

    Think of your body as a “container”. Then let every company add just about “anything” it wants to the stuff you put into that “container”, as long as the company can claim that “its” product only contains “safe” minimal amounts of this “anything” (whether a beneficial or harmful “anything”). 50 years later this container is chock full of a mixture of thousands of ingredients of “anything” about which no one has bothered to ascertain the combined effect thereof. The situation is worse than an impromptu illegal dump in a deserted industrial park. And that’s the official “regulated” treatment of the human body. Thank God for scientists who warn us of the effects of this practice.

  34. Hmmm.. when I heard about this, I’m not surprised.. It also reminded me that 30-40 years ago.. they came out with a new cookie called “soft batch”.. never got hard and crunchy.. I loved them.. until a report came out saying the ingredient that kept them soft, was a “water soluble plastic”.. such a turn off.. I never ate them again.. plastic has its place.. so many medical advancements came about when plastic could be used to make hospital equipment.. IV tubes and syringes.. as examples.. but all the everyday disposable stuff we use.. needs to devolve back to metal and glass and wood.. but it won’t.. and since the create newer plastics that are supposed to be safer.. eventually, we find that they too cause problems

  35. Funny how all the conservative “christians” blame liberals for this kinda stuff, meanwhile republicans do everything to make sure the giant corporations get away with poisoning this planet into a coma. But, domestic terrorists are gonna terrorize, it’s kinda their thing.

  36. Chris Johnson | June 23, 2021 at 9:55 pm | Reply

    Some of you people seem to think that if you comment on an article in a science magazine, that it makes you seem smart.
    It’s very difficult to eliminate plastic from your life especially with the foods we eat and walking barefoot at home on linoleum.
    I saw an anecdotal experiment on the amount of BPA and testosterone in a healthy adult male who went one month without using any plastic.
    He was much healthier after that one month without plastic

  37. David W Wyatt | June 24, 2021 at 10:51 am | Reply

    I still believe that plastics are responsible for most of the cancer epidemic in modern times.
    Polycar is used to clear fermented beverages with its electrical charge it attracts floating particles until it is too heavy to float and then sinks.
    What do these electrical charges actually do to food products stored within them not to mention being clothed in these plastics (rayon nylon polyester).
    Plastics should be limited to mechanical parts, never touching food or flesh for any length of period. Imho

  38. Isn’t that stuff in the vaccine

  39. Please do this level of research on the effects marijuana has on the brain. The legalization of marijuana has many of my friends using it to subconsciously self medicate and I’m watching them deteriorate before my eyes.

  40. To the person asking about ingesting directly vs indirectly, it’s a pretty well-studied phenomenon for contaminants in the environment to be hyperaccumulated as they move up trophic levels. Because the things we ingest were also ingesting contaminated things and so on. Couple that with studies that have found microplastic contamination even in relatively remote areas of the arctic. Humans definitely ingest microplastics from multiple sources.

  41. Christine Mushala | June 28, 2021 at 12:25 pm | Reply

    I have the solution: Bamboo! It should replace plastic as much possible! ASAP!!

  42. Sheldon Ross Steel | June 29, 2021 at 1:46 am | Reply

    Yeah I’m curious about how we are getting the plastic in our brains,’ ?? Maybe I could know if I wasn’t surrounded by plastics…

  43. Nicholas Lamonte | June 29, 2021 at 4:35 am | Reply

    Thermoplastics found in smoking meth and drinking water bottles. Either way you cannot avoid ingestion . Second hand meth smoke is probably in your apartment complex somewhere, that’s why you are up all night, and don’t know why… Thermoplastics travel through you and come out one way or another. You can’t avoid it. If you can, you’re weird.

  44. It amazes me with all the stupidity in some comments about “how this article doesn’t explain how the chemicals are absorbed by humans”!!?? Comments like these are proof that these chemicals have already leeched into the brains of humans!!🤔😏

  45. Is fossil oil plastic worse than hemp plastic? Candy in wax paper wrap? Milk in dark recyclable glass? Hemp cloth and paper? I remember money smelled strongly of hemp

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