Phthalates Affect Way Young Boys Play
Boys With High Phthalate Exposure in Womb Show Less Masculine Play
WebMD News Archive
Exposure to Phthalates continued...
Exposure to two of the nine phthalates, DEHP and DBP, was associated with
less masculine play behavior, the researchers found.
For example, Swan says, ''If the mother's MEHHP concentration [one of the
phthalate metabolites] was high, in the upper quartile, the odds that her boy
had a score that was less masculine [in play behavior] was five times
greater than mothers whose MEHHP was in the lowest quartile."
Exposure to phthalates may lower testosterone production in the fetus during a crucial period
of development, at about 8 to 24 weeks' gestation, Swan says, when the testes
begin to function, and in doing so alter sexual differentiation in the
The study results should be a wake-up call about the potential dangers of
phthalate exposures, according to Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, staff scientist
at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who reviewed the study results for
''This study by itself shouldn't make parents panic, but I do think we
are beginning to accumulate more and more evidence that exposure to phthalates,
especially during pregnancy, can be harmful for the development of baby boys,"
Janssen cites animal studies, finding that exposure to the chemicals can
cause a wide range of male reproductive harm, including undescended testicles,
birth defects of the genitals,
and infertility later in life.
"What this study adds is, we know testosterone and estrogen are also very important for the development of
the brain and sexual differentiation of the brain,'' she says. The new study
suggests that interfering with testosterone levels during critical periods of
development can affect later behavior, she says.
Advice for Moms-to-Be
Limiting exposure to the chemicals is best, say Swan and Janssen, although
the chemicals are ubiquitous.
Under a federal law passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety
Improvement Act, six phthalates are now banned from use in toys such as
bath toys, dolls, and teethers. Some products carry a "No phthalates"
One way to avoid exposure, Janssen says, is to avoid heavily fragranced
shampoos and lotions as well as air fresheners.
What's needed next, according to Janssen, is more attention on limiting
exposure to the chemicals to women who are pregnant or those of childbearing
Swan's study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the
Environmental Protection Agency, and the State of Iowa.