Women exposed to harmful chemicals from plastic during pregnancy are more likely to have mood disorders after giving birth, a new study warns.
American researchers found that women with higher traces of phthalates – a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products, including plastic packaging – were more likely to experience postpartum depression in their system.
The period after birth, or ‘postpartum’, has already been associated with mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and sleep problems.
But the study’s authors, of New York University’s Langone Medical Center, blame exposure to harmful chemicals affect hormonal shifts during pregnancy.
Postpartum depression is a serious and common psychiatric condition that affects up to one in five fertile women.
Harmful chemicals such as bisphenols and phthalates found in plastics and personal care products are known to affect sex hormones
The cause of postpartum depression is not well understood, but hormonal changes during pregnancy appear to be an important factor.
The experts specifically point to bisphenols and phthalates, which are found in plastics and personal care products and are already known to affect sex hormones.
Phthalates are additives used in the production of plastic or to extend the shelf life of a product.
Phthalates are found in many everyday products, such as bottled water, perfume, toys, vinyl floors and shampoo.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products such as toys, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, laundry detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and hoses, and personal care products such as nail polish, hairspray, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes and other fragrance preparations. Bisphenol A in polycarbonate plastic is used for hard reusable bottles and other common items such as food containers
THE PROBLEM WITH BISPHENOLS
BPS has been designed as a replacement for BPA after growing concerns about the effect of the plastic compound on human health.
But scientists now believe that BPD is also an endocrine disruptor.
WHAT ARE THESE CHEMICALS?
So-called endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in thousands of everyday products, ranging from plastic and metal food packaging to laundry detergents, flame retardants, toys and cosmetics.
Bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate plastic is used for hard reusable bottles and food packaging.
Bisphenol S (BPS) can be found in personal care products, baby bottles, and coupons.
WAT ARE THEY DOING?
The invisible chemicals cause neurological and behavioral disorders, including autism and ADHD.
They also affect IQ.
Their hormone effects can cause cancer, diabetes, male infertility and endometriosis.
Meanwhile, bisphenols, such as bisphenol A (BPA), are used as chemical building blocks in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.
They are used in reusable food and beverage packaging, reusable water bottles, food can liners, medical and sports equipment, spectacle lenses and even paper receipts.
“This study is important because phthalates are so prevalent in the environment that they are detectable in nearly all pregnant women in the United States,” said study author Melanie Jacobson of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
“If these chemicals can affect prenatal hormone levels and then postpartum depression, reducing exposure to these types of chemicals could be a plausible way to prevent postpartum depression.”
For their study, the researchers measured the levels of bisphenols and phthalates in urine samples and sex hormones in blood samples from 139 pregnant women.
They assessed these women four months postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) – a simple 10-item self-report scale that identifies women at high risk of developing depression.
The team found that women with higher levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to have postpartum depression.
The women also had lower levels of progesterone, a hormone that plays an important role in the menstrual cycle, in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy, and in regulating mood.
“These results should be interpreted with caution, as this is the first study to investigate these chemicals in relation to postpartum depression and our sample size was small,” Jacobson said.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals can affect hormonal shifts during pregnancy and also contribute to postpartum depression
The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
It follows research published in March by experts at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) that found 109 chemicals in a study of 30 pregnant women, including 55 who had never been seen in humans and 42 ‘mysterious chemicals’ without sources or known uses.
The researchers thought they most likely came from consumer products such as cosmetics and plastic.
They observed the chemicals in the women’s blood and also in their newborn children, suggesting that they travel across a mother’s placenta.
Last year, another team led by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health found that exposure to some type of man-made chemical can trigger menopause in women two years earlier.
The researchers found that high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in blood samples contributed to an earlier menopause.
PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water, and it is estimated that 110 million Americans (one in three) can consume drinking water contaminated with these chemicals
PFAS, which are used as oil and water repellants and coatings for consumer products, can penetrate water sources and disrupt ovarian function.
Commonly used in food packaging, cookware and industrial foams, the chemicals disrupt the endocrine system – the hormone-producing collection of glands that regulate sexual function.
Previous studies have also linked PFAS to infertility, behavioral problems, birth defects, high cholesterol and even cancer
PFAS CHEMICALS CONTAMINATE WATER AND FOODS
PFAS are man-made chemicals used as oil and water repellants and coatings for common products, including cookware, carpets and textiles.
These endocrine disrupting chemicals are not broken down when released into the environment and continue to build up over time.
PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.
PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities, military bases and firefighting training facilities where foam containing PFAS is used.
They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil.