Prenatal Phthalate Exposures May Impact the Reproductive Health of Male Children
Phthalates are chemicals that are used as plasticizers (substances that are added to plastics to increase their durability, flexibility and transparency). They are primarily used with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). As much as 30% of some plastics can be made up of phthalates. They are used in a very wide range of commonly used products (adhesives, food containers, cosmetics, toys, pill coatings) and are easily released into the environment. The global market for phthalates has been estimated to be approximately 6 million tons.
Phthalates are not chemically bound to PVC so they can easily leach into food or evaporate into the air. Most people have been exposed to phthalates and bio-monitoring data shows that human phthalate levels are rising rapidly with diet providing the main source of contamination. Fatty foods are a primary source (milk, butter and meats).
Due to the health risks of the most common phthalate, diethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), an alternate phthalate has been introduced as a replacement – di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP). This however is still a concern as DiNP is similar to DEHP in regards to anti-androgenic (anti-male hormone) properties.
This study looked at the phthalate levels in the urine of women in the first trimester of pregnancy. For those women who delivered boys, they then correlated this in-utero phthalate exposure with a marker of reproductive toxicity in boys – the anogenital distance (AGD) – the distance from the anus to the genitals. The significance of this AGD measurement includes:
- Short anogenital distance has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of birth defects (hypospadias and undescended testicles)
- Shorter AGD in adult men is related to decreased fertility, impaired semen quality and lower testosterone levels
- Shorter AGD is a biomarker for abnormal testicle formation (testicular dysgenesis syndrome)
Phthalates are used in many but not all forms of PVC plastics. Unfortunately there is no specific labeling requirement for phthalates. Phthalates remain a ubiquitous substance in all our lives – another consequence of the insidious hazards of our modern world.
Reference: Bornehag, C. G., Carlstedt, F., Jonsson, B. A., Lindh, C. H., Jensen, T. K., Bodin, A., Jonsson, C., Janson, S., and Swan, S. H. Prenatal Phthalate Exposures and Anogenital Distance in Swedish Boys. Environ.Health Perspect. 10-29-2014
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