High Phthalate Levels In Utero Lowers IQs, Study Finds

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Pregnant women with the highest phthalate levels in their urine had kids with markedly lower than average IQs by age 7, finds a new study. Its findings add to the numerous studies that are linking phthalate exposure to all sorts of health problems, especially in utero during the most vulnerable stages of child development.

Phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and we’re exposed to them daily in cosmetics, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, toys, dryer sheets, and bottles. According to NBC News, 470 million pounds of phthalates are produced or imported in the U.S. each year.

While the new study doesn’t show for sure that phthalate exposure impacts a fetus' brain, researchers did everything they could to remove any possible predetermined conditions that could cause lower IQs.

"Pregnant women across the United States are exposed to phthalates almost daily, many at levels similar to those that we found were associated with substantial reductions in the IQ of children," said Pam Factor-Litvak of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who led the study, reported on NBC News.

For this study, 328 pregnant women supplied urine samples in 1998 and since then their children have been taking tests to assess their development. Researchers tested urine for five different types of phthalates including di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, and diethyl phthalate. Those with the highest levels of two phthalates in particular had on average a 4-point lower IQ. These early shifts in IQ may have a major impact down the line on educational attainment and resulting occupations.

Researchers aren’t completely sure why or how phthalates impact the brain but a number of factors could be at play. Phthalates may disrupt the body’s hormones which could impact brain development and may disrupt the neurotransmitter dopamine, linked to hyperactivity.

"Before we can make any absolute conclusions about causality, a study of wider population would be helpful, for sure," Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of occupational and environmental medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, who was not involved in the study, said to LiveScience. "I think a study like this certainly raises concerns and puts the level of concern about this much higher for everyone, not just for this population that was studied."

Wanna know some pregnancy facts? It’s a good time to look into your exposure to phthalates. While it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate them you can take a number of steps to reduce your exposure:

  • Avoid plastics whenever possible. (#3 plastic or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contains phthalates)
  • Choose personal care products that are phthalate free.
  • Get a phthalate free shower curtain.
  • Replace vinyl flooring and other less natural building materials with wood.
  • Eat fresh foods rather than canned or other prepared foods.
  • Choose natural cleaning products like white vinegar or vodka.

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Image: Tatianna Vdb

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