On April 1, 2021, the civil society organization Endocrine Society released a press statement on a new study led by Melanie Jacobson from the New York University School of Medicine published in the peer-reviewed journal The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The researchers found an association between the presence of phthalates in pregnant women’s urine and reduced progesterone concentrations, which is linked to a more severe occurrence of post-partum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a severe psychiatric disorder, for which the causes are not yet well understood. Researchers postulate an association between changes in sex hormones such as allopregnanolone and the occurrence of PPD. Bisphenols and phthalates are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that may influence the development of PPD by changing progesterone levels. In this study, Jacobson and her colleagues were first to measure levels of bisphenols and phthalates in urine samples in blood samples from 139 pregnant women. Four months after giving birth, the same participants were assessed for PPD using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The analysis revealed an association between high levels of di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP, CAS 117-84-0) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP; CAS 28553-12-0) metabolites and reduced progesterone concentrations. Both of these chemicals are known to be intentionally used in plastic FCMs based on the Food Contact Chemicals database (FCCdb). Lower progesterone levels were, in turn, linked to more severe PPD.

Jacobson commented that the results need to be “interpreted with caution” since it was the first study examining the link between environmental chemicals and post-partum depression with a relatively small sample size. Nonetheless, she highlighted the importance of such studies as especially phthalates are detectable in nearly all pregnant women in the US. Jacobson concluded: “If these chemicals can affect prenatal hormone levels and subsequently post-partum depression, reducing exposure to these types of chemicals could be a plausible avenue for preventing postpartum depression.”

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Endocrine Society (April 1, 2021). “Exposure to harmful chemicals in plastic may contribute to post-partum depression.”

Jacobson, H. J. et al. (April 1, 2021). “Prenatal exposure to bisphenols and phthalates and post-partum depression: The role of neurosteroid hormone disruption.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism