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Exposure to Phthalates linked to Reduced Testosterone Levels

Update Date: Aug 15, 2014 10:24 AM EDT

Phthalates are chemicals found in plastics and certain personal care items that have been tied to disrupting the endocrine system. In a new study, researchers examined how exposure to phthalates affected people. They discovered that high levels of this chemical were associated with lower levels of testosterone.

In this study, the researchers analyzed data on 2,208 people who were a part of the 2011-2012 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The team had access to urine samples. They measured the concentration levels of 13 substances that were left behind after the body metabolized phthalates. Testosterone levels were measured via blood samples.

For women between the ages of 40 and 60, when phthalates levels increased, testosterone levels dropped by 10.8 to 24 percent. For boys between the ages of six and 12, increased phthalates exposure, particularly di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was tied to a 24 to 34.2 percent decrease in testosterone levels.

"This may have important public health implications, since low testosterone levels in young boys can negatively impact reproductive development, and in middle age can impair sexual function, libido, energy, cognitive function and bone health in men and women," said one of the study's authors, John D. Meeker, MS, ScD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, MI.

He added, according to Medical Xpress, "While the study's cross-sectional design limit the conclusions we can draw, our results support the hypothesis that environmental exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates could be contributing to the trend of declining testosterone and related disorders. With mounting evidence for adverse health effects, individuals and policymakers alike may want to take steps to limit human exposure to the degree possible."

Testosterone is the male sex hormone that is tied to physical growth, strength, brain function, bone density and heart health. The hormone can be found in lower amounts in females. Evidence from several studies have found that reductions in this hormone can lead to poor sperm quality and genital malformations in baby boys.

The study, "Urinary Phthalate Metabolites are Associated with Decreased Serum Testosterone in Men, Women and Children from NHANES 2011-2012," was published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

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