Phenols May Disrupt In Utero Growth in Boys

September 17, 2014

Exposure to two common phenols, parabens and triclosans, may disrupt the growth of boys in utero and during their first years of life.

Exposure to parabens and triclosans during pregnancy may disrupt the growth of boys during their first years of life, researchers concluded in a recently published study. Parabens are chemicals commonly found in cosmetic products (eg, deodorant, lotion, makeup) to prevent the growth of bacteria, and triclosans are used as an antifungal and antibacterial in common consumer products, such as soap, detergent, clothing, and toys.

Pertinent Points

- Scientists discover that exposure to parabens and triclosans during pregnancy may disrupt growth of boys both in utero and during their first three years of life.

- An upcoming study will include girls and will use maternal urine samples throughout the pregnancy instead of just one sample.

According to the study's background information, phenols interact with nuclear receptors that have been linked to growth and regulation of adipogenesis, but few studies have explored the effects of phenols on human growth and development.

The researchers documented the association of exposure to either of the two phenols and growth disruption by looking at development in utero as well as postnatal growth. The 520 mother-son pairs were followed using ultrasounds during pregnancy and then by conduction measurements of the child from birth until age 3. Urine samples taken during pregnancy were used to establish the exposure to phenols.

At more than 95%, most pregnant women were exposed to the nine phenols the researchers tested for in the study. Among the substances, exposure to triclosan and paraben stood out as having an impact on the child’s development.

Triclosan concentrations were associated with stymied growth as measured during the third ultrasound and smaller head circumferences at birth. But the phenol exposure did not appear to affect the child’s weight or height.

On the other hand, parabens were positively associated with weight at birth and the association remained for three years when looking specifically at methylparaben.

The results were published this month in the journal Epidemiology. The researchers noted that the results are the first to collect growth data at multiple points throughout the child’s prenatal and postnatal development. Still, they said that the next step is to replicate the findings by conducing numerous urine samples from both mother and child. For the initial findings, only a single maternal urine sample was used. Girls will also be included in the upcoming study, with the researchers noting that there may be a difference in sensitivity to phenols between the sexes.

In addition to having a possible role in fetal and early childhood growth, phenols, including bisphenol-A (BPA), have been associated with a variety of health problems, including increased risk of certain cancers, miscarriage and reduced fertility, birth defects, obesity, and diabetes, according to the Environmental Working Group.