(NaturalNews) In a groundbreaking study, research recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has revealed that pregnant women who are exposed to hairspray while at work have more than double the risk of giving birth to a son with hypospadias, a common genital birth defect.
Hypospadias, a condition whereby there is displacement of the urinary opening to the underside of the penis, is one of the most common birth defects to affect the male genitals. It is estimated that, in the United States and the United Kingdom, hypospadias hits about 1 in every 250 boys.
Typically, the condition can be treated using surgery after the child turns one, although serious cases of the disease can cause problems with urination, sex and fertility. As of now, the causes of hypospadias are not well understood.
Details of Study
In the said study, which was jointly conducted by the Imperial College in London, University College Cork and the Centre for Research in Environment Epidemiology in Barcelona, researchers conducted detailed interviews via telephone with 471 mothers across London whose sons had hypospadias. For the control group, interviews were also carried out with 490 mothers whose sons were not affected by the condition. A range of dietary and lifestyle factors were looked at, including occupation, family history of the condition, type of diet, smoking, intake of folate supplements as well as possible exposure to chemicals.
Findings of Study
Funded by several UK and European governmental organizations, the study found that boys borne to women who were exposed to hairspray at work during the first trimester of their pregnancies had two to three times the risk of getting hypospadias.
It is suggested that this link could be down to the presence of chemicals found in hairspray called phthalates. According to Wikipedia, these chemicals are esters of phthalic acid and their main use is as plasticizers, which are substances used to improve the flexibility of plastics. Previous studies conducted on phthalates had suggested possible adverse effects on hormonal systems and reproductive development. Certain phthalates had also been shown in other studies to possibly cause liver and testes damage as well as allergies and asthma in children.
The said study did not show up any increase in hypospadias risk in boys whose mothers had consumed a vegetarian diet during pregnancy, a link which had been suggested in smaller studies conducted in the past.
Another finding of the study was the 36% reduction in hypospadias risk for boys whose mothers had taken folic acid supplements during the first trimester. Presently, it is already recommended by the UK Department of Health for pregnant women to consume such supplements until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is done to lower the risk of neural tube defects, for example spina bifida.
"Hypospadias is a condition that, if left untreated, can cause problems in later life. Although surgery to correct it is usually successful, any surgery will be traumatic for the child and his parents. It is encouraging that our study showed that taking folic acid supplements in pregnancy may reduce the risk of a child being born with the condition. Further research is needed to understand better why women exposed to hairspray at work in the first 3 months of pregnancy may have increased risk of giving birth to a boy with hypospadias," said Paul Elliot from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College London, the author of the study.
In the meantime, this is another example of a potentially dangerous environmental toxin in our midst, and pregnant mothers may want to watch their exposure to common commercial hairsprays, whether in the workplace or elsewhere.