Fetal exposure to hormone disruptors such as phthalates linked to reproductive disease later in life

happy baby girlA new study finds that fetal exposure to hormone disruptors such as phthalates, the pesticide atrazine and PCBs hurts our baby girls too.  Fetal exposure to these hormone disruptors may be factors in reproductive diseases later in life in our baby girls.


Phthalates, PCBs and atrazine have been linked to interfering with the developing male reproductive system.  In fact, it has been said these endocrine disruptors are particularly disruptive to male fetuses.  A study by Dr. Shanna Swan showed a link between a pregnant woman’s phthalate intake and decreased ano-genital distance (distance between base of the penis and the anus) in their baby boys.  Dr. Swan reported that the decreased ano-genital distance indicated to her that phthalates could be “feminizing” boys.  Other researchers and scientists believe that the increased presence of phthalates in our environment and increasing rates of undescended tests, hypospadias (a birth defect involving an abnormally placed opening of the uretha), and male infertility. 


How synthetic chemicals impact the developing male reproductive system has been studied for the last decade or so (although a lot of information and research is still needed).  But, the developing female reproductive system has not been as widely studied. 


A new study addresses the lack of information.  It analyzed more than 300 studies involving the effect of hormone disrupting compounds on female reproductive problems.  It looked at studies involving rats and mice (rodents have similar reproductive physiology) and found that fetal exposure to PCBs, phthalates and atrazine may contribute to reproductive related diseases later in life.


And, these results are consistent with epidemiological studies.  We all know how fetal exposure to DES, a synthetic hormone, resulted in significantly increased risk for rare cancers.  And if you haven’t been concerned about exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) while pregnant, keep in mind that BPA was investigated along with DES for use as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930’s.


So what can you do?  Avoid exposure to phthalates, PCBs and pesticides.


Phthalates are plasticizers found in polyvinyl chloride plastic (also known as PVC or vinyl).  Phthalates are also found in synthetic fragrance in cosmetics, personal care products, and household cleaners.  Skip products that identify “fragrance” or “parfum” on the ingredient list without stating that the good smell is from essential oils to reduce exposure.


PCBs are still found in our environment.  We are mostly exposed to them through our diet.  PCBs accumulate in fatty tissue, so you can reduce exposure by avoiding high fat animal products such as red meat, dairy products, eggs, and similar products.  If you don’t want to skip these products, at least switch to low fat versions.  For fish and meat, make sure to cook them to reduce PCB exposure – trim fat and don’t cook in the fat.  If you eat game and wild caught fish, make sure you follow consumption advisories and cooking guidelines.  We are also exposed to PCBs when we track PCB contaminated dirt into our homes.  Control dirt and dust by vacuuming with a HEPA equipped vacuum regularly and wet dusting, or take off your shoes before going into your house.


Atrazine is one of the most widely used weed killers in the United States.  As a result, atrazine can be found in rainwater, snow runoff and groundwater.  Atrazine has been found in drinking water wells in the Midwestern United States.  You can avoid exposure by ensuring your water supply is free of atrazine.  Also, since atrazine is found in streams, rivers, and lakes, particularly near areas where atrazine has been applied, you may want to check out the water quality of such areas before swimming or playing in them.

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