Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

How Do High Phthalate Levels Affect Pregnancy?

Women with high phthalate levels in their urine during pregnancy are more likely to deliver early. This puts baby & mother at risk.

Phthalates are used to produce countless convenient products such as cosmetics, solvents and plastics. They are important components of polyvinyl chloride typically used for flexible items like shower curtains or medical bags and tubing. Perfumes, antiperspirants, nail polish, shampoo and hair gel often contain phthalates. Soft plastic food containers and wraps may also contain phthalates that leach out into the food itself. As a result, nearly every American has phthalates in blood and urine. How do phthalate levels affect reproductive health?

Phthalate Levels and Preterm Birth:

Previous research suggested that phthalates might be acting to disrupt hormone balance. Now, a study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences shows that women exposed to multiple phthalates during pregnancy are more likely to deliver their babies early (JAMA Pediatrics, July 11, 2022).

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 studies including more than 6,000 pregnant women in the United States. Nine percent of them delivered their infants at least three weeks before their due date. Those with the highest concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites were about 15 percent more likely to have a preterm delivery. Such infants are at risk of dying as newborns.

Which Products Are More Troublesome?

Scientists saw the closest connection between phthalates in nail polish and cosmetics, but they also recommend avoiding food wrapped in plastic or provided in plastic containers and eating fresh home-cooked food to reduce phthalate exposure.

Fast Food Lovers Have Higher Phthalate Levels:

A previous study linked phthalates to fast food consumption. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, show that Americans who eat more fast food have significantly higher phthalate levels in their urine (Environmental Health Perspectives, Oct. 2016). Presumably some of these are coming from the processing or packaging.

There are many different phthalates. The scientists found that one, DiNP, was 39 percent higher in the urine of people who ate the most fast food compared to those who had not eaten any fast food recently.

Here is CNN’s report on this research.

Is This a Problem?

Researchers do not know whether this exposure is something we should all worry about, but it is another disadvantage to a diet heavy in fast foods. The recent research suggests that pregnant women should limit their consumption to reduce phthalate levels.

Learn More:

To learn more about phthalates and other compounds of questionable safety, you might read Toxin Toxout by Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith. Or you could listen to our hour-long interview with the authors in Show 974.

Rate this article
4.3- 7 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.