In recent years, concerns over certain chemicals in plastics have been on the rise—and for good reason. Now, new research shows that when pregnant women are exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) during the first trimester of pregnancy, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life.
The study, which looked at 800 pregnant women and their babies, was published in the journal Human Reproduction.
What Is DEHP?
DEHP is used to soften plastics. It’s found in a wide variety of products, including wallpaper, medical tubing, flooring, personal care products, and food packaging. And it’s not necessarily easy to see what products contain DEHP just by looking at a label. The chemical is often used in cosmetics and personal care products to carry fragrance. And under current law, phthalates can simply be listed as “fragrance” on the label.
How to Decrease Exposure
While DEHP is found in so many products, the most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, said researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
And that makes it particularly difficult to eliminate all exposure to the chemical. “Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers,” says Swan.
Still, there are things you can do to minimize your exposure, such as avoid heating and storing food in plastic containers, and switch to non-plastic and non-vinyl products. With personal care products, steer clear of those that use synthetic fragrances and instead, choose those that contain only natural ingredients.