PhotoAs consumers, we are faced with decisions every day as to what products we need to buy. Unfortunately, new evidence shows that some of these products could be severely inhibiting our reproductive health.

Research shows that the phthalate DEHP, which is a plasticizing agent used in upholstery, baby toys, building materials and many other consumer products, is harming the female reproductive system. The chemicals in these products are disrupting the growth and function of the ovaries.

Specifically, these chemicals affect the follicles in the adult ovary in a negative way. Exposure to DEHP degrades them over time and inhibits the production of hormones that would regulate their growth. Jodi Flaws, a bioscience professor, explains why these follicles are so important.

“The follicles are the structures that contain the egg, and if you’re killing those, you may have fertility issues,” she says. “The bottom line is that DEHP may damage the follicles and impair the ability of the ovary to make sex steroids like estrogens and androgens, which are really important for reproduction.”

Low doses no better

Flaws’ research is ongoing, and is looking at the problem from a “real world” perspective. She explains that exposure to low doses of DEHP, which are typical in everyday life, can be just as damaging as the high doses.

"Sometimes it's at the low doses that you have the most profound effects, and that's what we're seeing with the phthalates," she said. Her research, amongst other similar initiatives, is being funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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