Every day we are exposed to numerous chemicals present in the food we intake, water, air, and products we use. Exposure to chemicals leads to an array of health risks. Inhaling or ingesting chemicals during pregnancy may cause problems for both the mother and baby. A recent study has reported that exposure to a common chemical disrupts a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy.
What Are Phthalates And How Do They Affect Pregnant Women?
Phthalates are a class of chemicals involved in the manufacture of plastics.
They are generally described as plasticizers and provide durability to plastics.
They are also used to dissolve certain substances as they have a high boiling point and low melting point.
Phthalates are found in substances like ink, paints, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and surprisingly, food products.
People are exposed to phthalates when they eat or drink food stored in containers made up of phthalates.
They also enter our body through our lungs when we breathe phthalate particles in the air.
When pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, their levels of sex hormones like estrogen and thyroid hormones get deranged.
As a result, they might experience a decrease in the pregnancy duration and other birth outcomes - preeclampsia, cryptorchidism, and decreased anogenital distance in babies.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy disorder characterized by hypertension. It can lead to various health ailments for the mother and the baby.
Cryptorchidism is a genital disorder that occurs in newborn male babies. The testicles (male sex organs) are improperly aligned in this disorder.
Usually, phthalates break down into small particles in the human body and leave our body through urine.
What Is Corticoid Regulating Hormone (CRH)?
CRH regulates the body's functions in response to physical and emotional stress.
The hormone also plays a vital role in pregnancy.
The placenta synthesizes and discharges the CRH into the circulating blood during pregnancy.
Thereby the levels of CRH increase at the time of delivery.
The level of CRH found in pregnant individuals is 1000 - 10000 times greater than that of non-pregnant individuals.
The CRH regulates fetal maturation, labor timing, and the placenta's blood flow to the baby.
The CRH levels are usually low during mid-pregnancy.
But high levels of perinatal stress can increase the CRH levels during mid-pregnancy, resulting in adverse birth outcomes.
At the same time, lack of CRH during labor can also lead to various pregnancy outcomes - premature birth, miscarriages, preeclampsia, retardation of the baby's growth.
Phthalates And Pregnancy - The Study
The study appears in the journal of Environmental International.
It has elucidated the association between exposure to phthalates and pregnancy.
- Firstly, the team enrolled 1018 pregnant women receiving prenatal care.
- They collected their urine samples during two prenatal visits: the first was during 16 - 29 weeks of gestation, and the second was at 23 - 29 weeks.
- The urinary phthalate metabolites were measured to assess phthalate exposure.
- The phthalate exposure was linked to higher CRH levels in mid-pregnancy and reduced CRH levels in the later pregnancy.
- The hormone levels were higher in the women with pregnancy complications - gestational diabetes and hypertension.
The women were tested only twice during their pregnancy.
Since phthalates have a fleeting life in the human body, a single spot urine test cannot determine the exposure levels.
More than half of the study participants were black women. They tend to have higher exposures to chemicals due to their lifestyle but are marginalized in pregnancy studies.
Preventing Phthalate Exposure
- The “parfum” ingredients in your perfumes and other scented products are almost always phthalates.
So, it is advised to avoid them or limit their usage during pregnancy.
- Heating food in the plastic take-out containers can result in phthalate leaching.
- Pesticides used to maintain crops and produce may contain phthalate; so, it is better to go organic whenever possible.
- Phthalates are found in water pipes.
Rather than drinking water directly from the tap, using a filter can help you avoid phthalate exposure.
- Chemical exposure during pregnancy can lead to adverse effects on the pregnant mother and the baby.
- The placenta releases corticoid regulating hormone during pregnancy, and an adequate level of CRH is essential to prevent pregnancy outcomes.
- A recent study has reported that exposure to a common chemical can disrupt CRH levels, a pregnancy hormone.