Phthalates adversely affect the male reproductive system in animals, inducing hypospadias, cryptorchidism, reduced testosterone production and decreased sperm counts. Phthalate effects are much more severe after in utero than adult exposure. Little is known about human health effects. This study discusses two recent studies on perinatal phthalate exposure, which indicated that human testicular development might be susceptible to phthalates. One study analysed phthalate monoesters in breast milk and reproductive hormone levels in infants. Five of six phthalates [monoethyl-(MEP), monobutyl- (MBP), monomethyl- (MMP), mono-2-ethylhexyl- (MEHP) and mono-isononyl phthalate (MiNP)] showed correlation with hormone levels in healthy boys, which were indicative of lower androgen activity and reduced Leydig cell function. MEP and MBP were positively correlated with serum sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels. MMP, MEP, MBP, MEHP and MiNP were positively correlated with the LH/testosterone ratio. Another study found a reduction of the anogenital index (AGI) in infant boys with increasing levels of MBP, MEP, monobenzyl- and mono-isobutyl phthalate in maternal urine samples during late-pregnancy. Boys with small AGI showed a high prevalence of cryptorchidism and small genital size. Taken together these studies suggest an antivirilizing effect of phthalates in infants. Most of these findings are in line with animal observations. However, the possible effects of MEP appear to be limited to humans. This may be due to differences in exposure routes (inhalation and dermal absorption which circumvents liver detoxification in addition to oral) and metabolism, or this association could be spurious. As phthalates are produced as bulk chemicals worldwide, these new findings raise concern about the safety of phthalate exposure for pregnant women and infants.
- Anogenital distance
- Breast milk
- Male reproduction
- testicular dysgenesis syndrome