(NaturalNews) Chemicals called phthalates are frequently used in vinyl and other plastic products, including personal care products, children's toys, and medical devices -- despite the fact research has suggested these compounds can play havoc with the function of the human endocrine system and potentially cause a host of health problems, especially in children. In fact, as covered previously in Natural News, studies that found these toxins could be linked to childhood obesity (http://www.naturalnews.com/026427_phthalates...) and, because phthalates are hormone disrupters, they may also interfere with the normal development of baby boys' genitalia(http://www.naturalnews.com/010145.html). Now comes research that suggests parents need to worry about their kids' exposure to these chemicals even before their offspring are born.
A new study set to be published in the Journal of Pediatrics raises the strong possibility that phthalate exposure in the womb contributes to low birth weight in infants. This is an issue of critical importance because low birth weight is the leading cause of death in children under five years of age. What's more, low birth weight also increases the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease as children grow into adulthood.
Dr. Renshan Ge of the Population Council in Shanghai, along with researchers from Fudan University and Second Military Medical University in China, investigated the associations between in utero phthalate exposure and low birth weight. Between 2005 and 2006, they studied 201 pairs of newborn infants and their mothers. Of the 201 babies in the research project, 88 came into the world with lower than normal birth weight.
To measure any phthalate levels in the babies, the scientists analyzed samples of the infants' meconium (the first bowel movement that occurs after birth) as well as umbilical cord blood. The results? Measurable levels of phthalate and phthalate metabolites were found in more than 70 percent of the samples. And the newborns with low birth weight were found to consistently have the higher levels of phthalates.
"The results showed that phthalate exposure was ubiquitous in these newborns, and that prenatal phthalate exposure might be an environmental risk factor for low birth weight in infants," Dr. Ge said in a statement to the media.
Even in the face of mounting evidence that serious health problems can arise fromhormone-disrupting chemicals, the U.S. government has been slow to regulate phthalates (http://www.naturalnews.com/023158_phthalates...). And it is, unfortunately, difficult to avoid exposure to the toxins because they are found in all kinds of products, including those used by children, such as dolls, inflatable toys and vinyl toys and bibs. In fact, if a vinyl product is flexible, it probably contains phthalates unless the label specifically says it made without the compounds.
Even careful reading of labels can be confusing because some manufacturers use various chemical names when they list phthalates. For example, DEHP, di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate are forms of phthalates often used in as medical devices such as IV bags and tubing. DBP stands for di-n-butyl phthalate and is found in nail polish products while DEP, or diethyl phthalate, is often an ingredient in deodorants, hair gels and other personal care products.
Reference: Phthalate Levels and Low Birth Weight: A Nested Case-Control Study of Chinese Newborns, by Zhang Y, PhD, Lin L, MD, Cao Y, PhD, Chen B, MD, Zheng L, MSC, Ge R, MD, , DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.04.007.