Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates – which are found in many plastics, foods, and personal care products – early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The findings, presented at the Endocrine Society’s ninety-seventh annual meeting in San Diego and funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone. These results suggest that there may be reason to push routine clinical testing earlier in pregnancy to check for the effects of chemicals and help guide potential interventions to protect the health of the baby.
“Phthalates are pervasive,” said Dr. Jennifer Adibi, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “Reducing exposure to phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals is something that needs to be addressed at a societal level through consumer advocacy and regulation, and education of health care providers.”
The research builds on a study led by Dr. Shanna S. Swan, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai that was published in February in the journal Human Reproduction. Dr. Swan is senior investigator on this presentation, which provides new information about how phthalates target a key pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is made by the placenta and can be measured in the mother’s blood and urine.
“The placenta, which is an extension of the fetus and a target of the chemicals in our bodies, broadcasts information early in pregnancy, through hCG, about what might be occurring to the fetus from chemical exposure,” said Dr. Adibi. “A long-term benefit of this research might be the development of new knowledge and methods for earlier screening in pregnancy, with the potential to act on this information to improve the long-term health of the future child.”
Dr. Adibi and her colleagues analyzed data collected from approximately 350 women and their babies who participated in a multicenter investigation called The Infant Development and the Environment Study (TIDES). Between 2010 and 2012, the women gave blood and urine samples in their first trimester of pregnancy and allowed researchers to take measurements of the babies at birth.
For a video of Dr. Adibi explaining her findings, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9J_40Off9M&feature=youtu.be. For more information, visit http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2015/Pages/adibi-phthalate-fetal-development.aspx.