Preterm Birth and Chemicals In Personal Products

Pregnant women exposed to phthalates, a group of hormone-mimicking chemicals found in personal care products and processed foods, may have an increased risk of preterm delivery, a new study suggests.

This study involved 130 Boston women who gave birth before 37 weeks and 352 who were full-term. The women had their urine tested for common phthalates like DEHP up to three times throughout their pregnancy.

Researchers found that preterm birth rates were two to five-fold higher for women with the highest levels of phthalate metabolismites in their urine than those of the lowest.

Furthermore, the research published in JAMA Pediatrics today, November 18th, found that only 57 of the women had preterm preterm deliveries.

Researchers wrote that their data "provide strong support for action to prevent or reduce phthalate-exposure during pregnancy."

The chemicals phthalates can be used to make flexible, durable plastics as well as many other products like adhesives. People are exposed to these potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals through contact with phthalate-containing products, and eating certain processed and canned foods.

John Meeker (associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health) stated that women interested in decreasing their exposure can buy phthalate-free products whenever possible and eat fresher foods. However, research is still limited.

Preterm birth refers to the premature birth of an infant within 37 weeks of gestation. It is one of the leading causes of long-term neurological disorders in children. Between 1981 and 2006, the rate of preterm births in America has increased more than three times. It reached its highest point at 12.8 per cent in 2006. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these rates have decreased to around 11.5 per cent in 2012 which is one of eight premature births in America.

An analysis of recent studies to determine the reasons for preterm birth rates rising identified several risk factors, including increased maternal age or assisted reproduction. Nearly half of this increase is still unaccounted for according to Shanna Swan of Icahn school of medicine at Mount Sinai.

Swan published an editorial in conjunction with the study that stated that there is strong evidence that environmental chemicals and especially phthalates, contribute substantially to this unknown category.

This study found a correlation between preterm birth and phthalates. It was not cause-and effect. The researchers stated that there may be reasons to believe that preterm births could occur from phthalates. They suggested that for instance, phthalates might cause inflammation in the uterine wall.

While lab tests have confirmed that phthalates cause inflammation, it is still necessary to study this in humans. The immune system, hormone disruption, and oxidative stress are all possible ways phthalates can affect pregnancy.

In experimental research, phthalates are shown to be capable of doing a variety of tasks. LiveScience's Meeker said that there is still much to be learned from human observational studies.

Smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, and infection are all factors that increase the risk of preterm birth. According to a Lancet study, preterm birth rates will drop only 5 percent with current measures that address risk factors.

The researchers suggested that exposures to phthalates might be prevented through behavioral modifications or policies intended to decrease their use.