Besides being really hard to spell, phthalates may make it hard for men to successfully reproduce. A new study finds that women whose male partners have high concentrations of three common forms of phthalates take longer to become pregnant than women in couples in which the male does not have high concentrations of the chemicals.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health assessed the concentrations of phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) in couples trying to achieve pregnancy. Phthalates, sometimes known as plasticizers, are used in the manufacture of plastics, to make them more flexible, as is BPA. Both chemicals are widely used in cosmetics and food packaging.
The study authors measured urine concentrations of BPA and 14 phthalate compounds in couples trying to achieve pregnancy. The study authors explained that many phthalates are often broken down and chemically changed before they are excreted from the body.
Pregnancy took the most time to achieve in couples in which the males had high concentrations of three phthalates. BPA exposure was not linked to delays in pregnancy rates.
“Our study shows that exposure to certain phthalates can reduce the chance of conception for otherwise healthy couples,” said the study’s first author, Germaine M. Buck Louis, Ph.D.. “Many people have been exposed to these compounds, so it’s important to continue to investigate whether they have any health effects.
The study was published online in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
In their article, the authors cited previous studies by other researchers who found high concentrations of BPA and other phthalates among couples seeking treatment for infertility.
One study found that men with a high BPA level had decreased testosterone levels. Another found that men with a high BPA concentration had a reversal in the ratio of testosterone to estradiol, an estrogen-related hormone.
Numerous studies found that, compared to infertility patients without high BPA levels, women seeking treatment for infertility had lower estradiol levels, fewer egg cells, lower rates for the implantation of the fertilized egg, and lower pregnancy rates. Similarly, the authors wrote, studies in lab animals suggest that BPA and other phthalates can hinder the maturation of egg cells, impair the production of reproductive hormones, and alter the development of reproductive organs.