In February 2021, a new study was published by a research team led by neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which found a correlation between phthalate exposure during pregnancy and altered cognitive processing in 159 seven-and-a-half-month-old infants.
Phthalates are widely used chemical additives in plastic packaging and consumer products. Exposure to these substances has been previously linked to impaired hormone function and embryo development in multiple animal studies.
So far, studies investigating phthalates’ effects on children’s cognitive development merely focused on early and middle childhood. In the presented article, the researchers investigated whether there was an association between the cognitive abilities of 159 seven-and-a-half months old infants and the presence of the three phthalates diethyl phthalate (DEP; CAS 84-66-2), di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP; CAS 117-81-7), and diisononyl phthalate (DINP; 28553-12-0) in their mother’s urine during pregnancy.
The results showed a correlation between slower information processing in eye-tracking tasks and higher phthalate exposure levels, especially for boys. Schantz added that the results also showed that effects can be detected much earlier in a child’s life than previously thought.
The presented project is part of the Illinois Kids Development Study (IKIDS), which explores the effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals on children’s physical and behavioral development from birth to middle childhood.
An narrative review on a similar topic published on July 13, 2021, in the journal Current Neuropharmacology by Soheila Safarpour and collegues from Babol University of Medical Sciences, Babol, Iran, linked DEHP exposure during pregnancy and infancy to irreversible damage of the nervous system and memory loss. The authors concluded “that increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammatory mediators possess a pivotal role in DEHP-induced neurobehavioral impairment.”
Merced-Nieves et al. (February 2021). “Associations of Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates with Measures of Cognition in 4.5-Month-Old Infants.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Safarpour et al. (2021). “Effects of Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate on central nervous system functions: A narrative review.” Current Neuropharmacology. (published online July 13, 2021)
Diana Yates (April 6, 2021). “Study links prenatal phthalate exposure to altered information processing in infants.” Illinois News Bureau