Common household chemicals known as phthalates may be contributing to the alarming rise in premature births, say researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health. Appearing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, their new study found that women who deliver prematurely have, on average, up to three times the phthalate level in their urine compared to women who carry to full-term.
UM professors John Meeker, Rita Loch-Caruso and Howard Hu and collaborators from the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico and the U.S. CDC looked at data from 60 women: 30 who carried to term and 30 who delivered prematurely. They analyzed urine samples collected during the third trimester and compared them to the control group who carried to term. They found significantly higher phthalate metabolite levels in the women who delivered prematurely.
Premature births, he says, account for one-third of infant deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of neonatal mortality. Being born too early can also lead to chronic health problems such as blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, low IQ and more.
Meeker explained that phthalates are commonly used compounds in plastics, personal care products, home furnishings and many other consumer and industrial products. Past studies have shown that phthalates can cause reproductive and developmental problems in animals. This is the first known study to look at the relationship between phthalates and premature births, Meeker adds.
"One of the problems for consumers is that you don't know exactly which products contain phthalates because the products do not have to be labeled accordingly," noted Meeker. The researchers now hope to examine a larger population of pregnant women to corroborate these initial study findings, and conduct experimental lab studies to further explore the biological mechanisms of how phthalates work in the body.
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Source: University of Michigan School of Public Health