Phthalates pose danger to pregnant women and their children, researchers say

Photo (c) Alona Siniehina - Getty Images

Study findings show that the chemicals increase the chances of a preterm birth

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opted not to impose a total ban on phthalates in consumer products. However, findings from a recent study suggest that pregnant women could be endangered by that decision.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that pregnant women who are exposed to these chemicals have a higher chance of experiencing a preterm birth.

"Having a preterm birth can be dangerous for both baby and mom, so it is important to identify risk factors that could prevent it," said Dr. Kelly Ferguson, an epidemiologist and the study's senior author.

Preterm births spiked when phthalates were present

The research team analyzed data from over 6,000 pregnant women in the U.S. and found that those who had higher levels of phthalate metabolites in their urine were more likely to experience a preterm birth. Preterm births were defined as a delivery that occurred three or more weeks before the expected due date.

The researchers stated that the most consistent levels of phthalate metabolites came from personal care products like nail polish and cosmetics. Using statistical models, they predicted that lowering phthalate metabolite levels by 50% could prevent 12% more preterm births, on average. 

"It is difficult for people to completely eliminate exposure to these chemicals in everyday life, but our results show that even small reductions within a large population could have positive impacts on both mothers and their children," said first study author Dr. Barrett Welch.

The researchers recommend that consumers reduce their phthalate exposure by eating more fresh, home-cooked foods and avoiding processed foods that come in plastic containers and wrappings. They also say pregnant women can opt for fragrance-free or "phthalate-free" products to help lower their exposure.

The full study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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