Baby's Soft Skin Soaks Up Chemicals
< Feb. 6, 2008 > -- A new study found that more than 80 percent of infants tested had been exposed to phthalates - a potentially harmful group of chemicals.
Exactly what this means in terms of infant health is not yet clear, however. Some animal studies have found these substances to be harmful to development, and one study on human infants found an association between exposure to a particular phthalate and male reproductive problems.
Because the exact effects on the developing body are not known, the researchers suggest limiting the use of products that contain these chemicals in infants as much as possible. Baby lotion, baby shampoo, and baby powder were all linked to phthalate exposure in the study.
"Right now, we still don't know the true long-term effects," says study author Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, an acting assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Washington, Seattle. But, she adds, it is probably a good idea to "decrease the amounts of products used, especially in newborns."
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of widely used chemicals that make plastic softer and help stabilize fragrance in personal care products. These chemicals are found in children's toys, infant care products, cosmetics, food packaging, vinyl flooring, blood storage containers, and more, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Exposure to phthalates occurs when you use a product containing them, from breathing household dust containing phthalates, from medical treatments like dialysis that use products with phthalates, and from living near a manufacturing facility that uses phthalates, according to the CDC. Phthalates are banned from use in personal care products and in some toys in Europe.
Decreasing Number of Products Used - Safest Bet
For the current study, the researchers looked for nine different metabolites of phthalates in the urine of 163 infants born between 2000 and 2005. The reason they had to look for evidence of phthalate exposure in the urine is that it is difficult to measure exposure any other way because manufacturers are not required to disclose all phthalates in their products. Findings from the study are published in the journal Pediatrics.
"Right now, manufacturers aren't required to label them, so it's difficult to know if you're using a product with phthalates," explains Dr. Sathyanarayana.
Animal Tests Provide Some Information
Most of the infants studied had detectable levels of phthalate metabolites, products of metabolism. Because the researchers also asked the parents about which products had been used on the babies, they were also able to see an association between higher levels of phthalate metabolites and the use of baby shampoo, lotion, and powder. Diaper creams and baby wipes did not appear to increase the concentration of phthalate metabolites in the urine, according to Dr. Sathyanarayana.
Marian Stanley, manager of the Phthalates Esters Panel of the American Chemistry Council, a plastics industry trade group, says: "We believe that there is potential value in the study of metabolized phthalates. But we take great exception to any effort to draw unfounded conclusions that suggest human health risks are associated with the mere presence of very low levels of metabolized phthalates in urine."
"With phthalates in particular, there's good research in multiple animal studies that these compounds can be harmful. It's interesting that industry is willing to accept animal studies to introduce new medication, but when something is found to be harmful, industry says, 'Well, those studies were just done on rats,' " says Dr. Jonathan Weinkle, a physician at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh's Cancer Institute's Center for Environmental Oncology. "If animals are useful models for things that are helpful, it's because their bodies are similar enough to ours. Animal models should be reliable for good and bad."
Fragrance-Free Products May Also be Phthalate Free
Both Drs. Weinkle and Sathyanarayana say that dose makes a difference. The greater the exposure, the greater potential for harm, which is why they recommend limiting the use of products containing phthalates if possible.
Dr. Sathyanarayana says that phthalates are often contained in fragrances, so a product that is fragrance-free may also be phthalate-free, and she says there are products available that are labeled phthalate-free, but they are generally more expensive.
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
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It is known that chemicals cause many human diseases. Some of the chemicals that have been documented to be dangerous to human exposure include:
Reactions to certain chemicals may cause reactions similar to those experienced with allergies. Chemicals that may cause sensitivity may include synthetic and natural substances found in:
There are many other chemicals under investigation and the problem continues to grow because of the ever increasing production of organic chemicals.
Multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS, as it is sometimes referred to, is under debate in the medical community at this time.
Some physicians question whether it exists, while others acknowledge that this is a medical disorder triggered by exposures to chemicals in the environment. This often begins with a short-term, severe chemical exposure, such as a chemical spill, or a longer-term exposure, such as a poorly ventilated office.
After the initial exposure, low levels of chemicals found in everyday materials such as soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and newspaper inks can trigger physical symptoms in persons with multiple chemical sensitivities.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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