Pregnancy and phthalates: Inconclusive conclusions

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  • Published: Jul 15, 2014
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Pregnancy and phthalates: Inconclusive conclusions

Phthalates in pregnancy

Multivariate regression analysis has been used to investigate associations between reported food and drink consumption among 656 women in the first trimester of pregnancy and measures of urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations based on data from a multicentre cohort study, The Infant Development and Environment Study (TIDES). The conclusions, as is common with self-reported data, are mixed and new research is suggested.

Multivariate regression analysis has been used to investigate associations between reported food and drink consumption among 656 women in the first trimester of pregnancy and measures of urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations based on data from a multicentre cohort study, The Infant Development and Environment Study (TIDES). The conclusions, as is common with self-reported data, are mixed and new research is suggested.

Samantha Serrano and Sheela Sathyanarayana of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, in Washington, working with colleagues at the University of Washington, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, the University of Rochester and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York and the University of California San Francisco, provide details of their study in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

More than 200 000 tonnes of phthalic acid derivatives, commonly known as phthalates are manufactured each year for use in a wide range of industrial, medical and consumer products. The high molecular mass derivatives, such as di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP) are commonly used as plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to make it flexible, durable and heat resistant. Low molecular mass, dibutyl phthalates (DBP, DiBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) as used in adhesives, fixatives, sealants, detergents and personal care products including perfumes as fragrance carriers.

Some of the phthalates can mimic sex hormones and so inhibit the androgenic activity of testosterone during fetal development causing genital abnormalities, for instance. The issue is made all the more worrying as the phthalates are not chemically bound to many materials with which they are used, including those used for food can liners and beverage bottle seals. Studies in Europe have suggested that food packaging and thus diet is a major source of exposure to phthalates for women in the sensitive first trimester of pregnancy. They are rapidly eliminated from the body as metabolites detected in urine and feces, but the concern is that chronic and constant exposure means that the body and potentially the unborn child is constantly exposed to any putative harm.

Isolated burden

Evidence from remote, isolated, communities suggests that chronic exposure risk can be lowered significantly by eating only homegrown, non-packaged food and drink and not using cosmetics or personal care products. However, elimination studies have produced conflicting evidence that such draconian measures may or may not be beneficial after all. There is scant robust evidence from any study where pregnant women were known to have opted to avoid processed food and to instead choose so-called "organic", "ecofriendly", "environmentally friendly" or "chemical-free" products. By definition food is chemical by its very nature, but the implication of that latter phrase is that the food was free of manufactured "additives". Moreover, a definition of environmentally friendly requires a full assessment of source to waste for a given product, and is commonly more a marketing term than a statement of scientific fact based on evidence. Where the women reported limiting fast food intake it is always unclear whether their personal choices regarding food led to any reduction in their body's phthalate burden.

Behavioural preferences

The team's multivariate regression analysis of data from TIDES has provided some insights into how behavioural preferences might affect the burden of different phthalates on women during their first trimester of pregnancy. The researchers found that those women reporting consumption of one additional serving of dairy per week showed a mere 1 percent decrease in the total urine concentration of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) metabolite levels. However, eating 13 servings of dairy per week correlated with much higher levels of MEP, monoethyl phthalate. Women who reported occasionally eating homegrown food had monoisobutyl phthalate (MiBP) levels that were 16.6 percent lower than the others who rarely or never ate such food. Women who ate frozen fruit and vegetables showed monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP) levels 21 percent.

The research offers several insights, but also given discrepancies caused by delays in obtaining urine samples and the self-reporting nature of the study, future research on antenatal dietary phthalate exposure and the role of consumer product choices in reducing such exposure is needed, the team concludes.

"We hope to continue to better understand dietary sources of exposure and potentially develop a generalizable intervention to reduce exposures," Sathyanarayana told SpectroscopyNOW.

Related Links

Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2014, 11, 6193-6215: "Dietary Phthalate Exposure in Pregnant Women and the Impact of Consumer Practices"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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