MONDAY, Oct. 29, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Children may suffer delayed language skills if their mothers come in contact with common chemicals called phthalates in early pregnancy, new research suggests.
Phthalates are in countless products from nail polish and hair spray to food packaging and vinyl flooring. As plasticizers, they make things more pliable; as solvents, they enable other substances to dissolve.
In the new study, researchers found that the risk for language delay at about age 3 years was up to 30 percent higher among children whose mothers had higher exposure to two phthalates in particular: dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP). Both chemicals are in products such as older vinyl flooring, cosmetics and plastic toys.
“Phthalates are known to be hormonally active and affect the body’s hormone system,” said researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Although the study cannot prove these chemicals cause delays in language development, Swan believes there is good reason to think they do.
Both DBP and BBP have been shown to lower testosterone in the mother during early pregnancy, Swan said. That helps explain how they can affect intellectual development, she noted.
Phthalates previously have been linked to developmental delays, lower IQ and underdeveloped male sex organs, the researchers said.
Because they are so commonplace, “we are all exposed all the time,” said lead researcher Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, a professor at Karlstad University in Sweden.
DBP and BBP are banned in many products, but they have very long life cycles. For example, vinyl flooring can be used for 20 to 30 years, meaning people are exposed for a very long time, he said.
Also, phthalates are routinely detected in indoor air, dust, food and water because they leach into the air, according to background notes with the study.
Swan said the only way to avoid these chemicals is to buy products labeled phthalate-free or to carefully read label ingredients.
However, steering clear of the chemicals is easier said than done, Bornehag pointed out.