Small study suggests a link, but others question a connection
TUESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A new small study raises the prospect, but doesn't prove, that there's a link between pregnant women's exposure to common chemicals called phthalates and the type of toys their male children prefer to play with when they reach preschool age.
Boys with the highest potential exposures to two types of phthalates were slightly more likely to play with games and toys such as dolls that society considers more appropriate for girls, the study found.
The study was small -- it included just 74 boys -- and it's possible that factors other than phthalates could explain the differences in how the boys behaved. But its lead author, Shanna H. Swan, a University of Rochester professor of obstetrics and gynecology and environmental medicine, said it's clear that "these common chemicals have the ability to alter the development of the male fetus."
A chemical industry group, however, defended the chemicals and questioned the study.
At issue are phthalates, manmade chemicals that soften plastics and are found in a slew of products, including baby toys, shower curtains and floor coverings, Swan said. People appear to be most exposed to them through food, she said, in part because items such as milk travel through plastic tubing.
Scientists have been hotly debating whether the chemicals are dangerous. According to Swan, they reduce testosterone levels in rodents, and she suspects they may do the same thing to fetuses in the womb. Previous research she conducted suggested that high levels disrupt the development of male genitals to a small extent.
In the new study, published online Nov. 16 in the International Journal of Andrology, researchers analyzed phthalate levels in the urine of pregnant mothers and then followed up with their children when they reached preschool age.
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