News Brief

Phthalate Levels Connected to Reproductive Troubles

Dashing female libido and shrinking your son’s male parts are now on the list of health hazards associated with phthalates. Now do we have your attention?

Women exposed to higher levels of phthalates were more than two times as likely to report experiencing low libido, according to a recent study.

Photo: Stuart Conner. License: CC BY 2.0.
Two recent studies suggest phthalates, common plasticizers used primarily in flexible vinyl, may be affecting human reproduction by burning the candle at both ends: first decreasing women’s libido, then interfering with the genital development of their male offspring.

After measuring the levels of phthalates in the urine of 360 pregnant women and asking them how often they noticed a dip in their sex drive leading up to their pregnancy, Emily Barrett, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester School of Medicine, determined that those with the most phthalates in their bodies were two-and-a-half times as likely to say they had frequently lacked interest in sex as those with the least. The results of Barrett’s research were presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference.

A separate study published in Environmental Health Perspectives links high levels of the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) in pregnant women to slightly shortened distances between the anus and the genitals of their baby boys—a sign of incomplete masculinization that, in grown men, is associated with abnormal testicular development and reduced semen quality. Previous studies found that the plasticizer DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) was associated with the same type of changes to genitalia, but this is the first time it’s been observed with DiNP, the supposedly safer substitute (see Phthalate Exposure Persists Despite Regulations).

These reproductive effects join the growing list of health and developmental hazards associated with phthalates, including higher instances of asthma, lower IQ scores, and endocrine disruption.

Published December 1, 2014

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