A new US study suggests that pregnant women with higher exposure to phthalates may up their risk of delivering premature babies.
Phthalates are chemicals found in a wide range of consumer and personal care products (perfumes, lotions and cosmetics), medical devices, coatings in some pharmaceuticals, food packaging and vinyl (flooring, construction products). Human exposure is common because of their widespread use.
Pre-term births are cause of worry because they are linked with long-term health problems and are the leading cause of neonatal mortality in the United States. While causes are ambiguous, it is hypothesized that environmental factors may contribute to premature deliveries.
Lead author of the study, John Meeker from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor stated, “Preterm birth is a real public health problem. We’re not really sure how to go about preventing it, but this may shed light on environmental factors that people may want to be educated in.
“We knew that exposure to phthalates was virtually ubiquitous here in the U.S. and possibly worldwide and preterm births increased for unknown reasons over the past several decades.”
Details of comparative study
The objective of the study was to investigate associations between exposure to phthalates and preterm birth rates. Researchers compared two groups of women who were part of a different, larger study together in Boston, Massachusetts.
It involved 130 women who delivered preterm babies (less than 37 weeks’ gestation) and 352 others who delivered full term babies. Researchers collected urine samples nearly three times during their pregnancies to measure levels of different phthalate residues.
They found “significantly elevated levels” of certain phthalates, like di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), mono-(2-ethyl)-hexyl phthalate (MEHP) and mono-(2-ethyl-5-carboxypentyl) phthalate (MECPP) in women who delivered their children early, compared to those who gave birth after 37 weeks.
The study found women had 33 to 40 percent higher odds of having a preterm baby if they had the highest levels of MEHP, MECPP and DEHP in their urine.
“Our results indicate a significant association between exposure to phthalates during pregnancy and preterm birth, which solidifies prior laboratory and epidemiologic evidence. Furthermore, as exposure to phthalates is widespread and because the prevalence of preterm birth among women in our study cohort was similar to that in the general population, our results are generalizable to women in the United States and elsewhere. These data provide strong support for taking action in the prevention or reduction of phthalate exposure during pregnancy,” the researchers conclude.
This study was published November 18 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.