Chemicals in Plastics Alter Masculinity

11.18.09 New study finds phthalates affects the way young boys play

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This week, experts are raising another red flag about plastics. A new study suggests pregnant women exposed to higher levels of two types of phthalates had sons with "less masculine" play behaviors, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study, published in the International Journal of Andrology, examined diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), which are used in soaps, cosmetics, air fresheners, food processing, medical tubing and many household objects, Time magazine also reports.

University of Rochester researchers found that DEHP and DBP can disrupt hormones. The chemicals affect the baby's developing brain by deactivating testosterone, the male sex hormone. The plastics and manufacturing industries insist the chemicals are safe.

Researchers found women exposed to higher levels of DEHP and DBP during their pregnancies had sons during the ages of 4 to 7 who were less likely to play with guns, trains, cars and other "male typical" toys. The same group of boys was also less likely to play "rough and tumble" games. The findings found no impact on girls.

Although other research has shown that phthalates may be partly responsible for lower sperm counts in men over several decades, genital defects and metabolic abnormalities in babies, this is the first study to link kids' behavior to hormone-mimicking chemicals.

The last thing a new mom wants to do is add another worry to her already-long list, but we think this one is worth noting because nothing is more important than your little one's health. Become a label sleuth when it comes to the products you put on you and your baby's skin. Here's our list of the "Toxic 10" to avoid, and try to use eco-friendly products wherever and whenever you can.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.