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Exposure to a commonly used chemical may affect hormone levels during pregnancy

Experts say these chemicals may interfere with a healthy pregnancy and infant development

Phthalate stamp concept
Photo (c) Olivier Le Moal - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University explored how a commonly-used chemical – phthalates – may impact women’s and infants’ health during pregnancy

According to their findings, exposure to phthalates, which are found in everything from personal care products to electronics, may affect women’s hormone levels during pregnancy. The team warns that this may have an effect on both women’s health and infants’ development. 

“We are all exposed to phthalates in our environment through the products we use and the foods we eat,” said researcher Emily S. Barrett. “Our findings show that these chemicals may alter the production of essential placental hormones, which has important implications for the course of pregnancy as well as subsequent child health and development.” 

Identifying risks to healthy hormone levels

To better understand the potential pregnancy risks related to phthalate exposure, the researchers analyzed data from over 1,100 women enrolled in the Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood (CANDLE) study. They closely monitored the women’s exposure to phthalates throughout their pregnancies and evaluated their placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) levels. This hormone affects maternal and infant health throughout pregnancy, and higher levels may indicate certain pregnancy complications. 

The researchers identified a connection between the women’s exposure to phthalates and changes to their pCRH levels, with higher levels of exposure being linked to higher pCRH levels. The chemical posed the biggest risk to women with other pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. 

The researchers explained that pCRH is responsible for several important processes throughout pregnancy, including starting the process of labor and delivery. However, when levels spike, it puts women and their infants at an increased risk for complications. Women may be more susceptible to postpartum depression and high blood pressure, while infants may struggle with healthy growth and development. 

Now, the goal is to continue doing research in this area to better understand how women can best protect themselves during pregnancy. 

“Associations between phthalates and pCRH among women with pregnancy complications grew stronger across the course of pregnancy,” said Barrett. “We know very little about how women with pregnancy complications are affected by environmental exposures. This study sets the stage for future research in that area.” 

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