Com­mon chem­i­cal tied to lan­guage de­lay in kids

Tehran Times - - HEALTH -

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.

“It is of­ten hard to get in­for­ma­tion about chem­i­cals in prod­ucts and ar­ti­cles, which makes it dif­fi­cult to avoid ex­po­sure. We need bet­ter la­bel­ing sys­tems,” he said.

And Swan added that banned ph­tha­lates have been re­placed by sim­i­larly trou­ble­some chem­i­cals.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ers have taken out the worst of­fend­ers and put in a slight change, which changes its name, but they are equally hor­mon­ally ac­tive,” she said. “There have been some substitutions.”

Ac­cord­ing to Steven Gilbert, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Neu­ro­tox­i­col­ogy and Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders, in Seat­tle, the real is­sue is that chem­i­cals put into ev­ery­day house­hold prod­ucts are not reg­u­lated.

They’re only tested and po­ten­tially banned when a prob­lem arises af­ter years of use, he said.

“What we need to do is change the laws,” Gilbert said. “We’ve shown that these are bad ac­tors and they cause cell changes, and we just need to stop us­ing them.”

The study in­volved preg­nant women and their chil­dren who took part in long-term stud­ies in Swe­den or the United States. Nearly 1,000 moth­ers were in Swe­den; 370 were in the United States.

Par­ents were asked about how many words their kids un­der­stood at about 30 months to 37 months of age. Chil­dren who un­der­stood 50 or fewer words were said to have a lan­guage de­lay.

Over­all, 10 per­cent had a lan­guage de­lay, boys more of­ten than girls, the re­searchers found.

Urine sam­ples col­lected from the moth­ers in the 10th week of preg­nancy re­vealed a cor­re­la­tion be­tween ph­tha­late ex­po­sure and lan­guage de­lay, ac­cord­ing to the study.

The re­searchers said the re­sults were sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant in the Swedish study, but not in the U.S. study. They be­lieve the dif­fer­ence is prob­a­bly due to the U.S. study’s smaller sam­ple size.

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