Prenatal Exposure to Phthalate Chemicals Damaging to Girl Babies

There is more bad news about the dangers of phthalate chemicals. The results of a recent study indicate that pregnant women exposed to these ubiquitous chemicals (phthalates are found in food/drinks, home care products and personal care products) can harm the reproductive systems of female offspring.  More specifically, the study found that a mother’s exposure to phthalate chemicals can affect the tissue development in the reproductive systems of female babies.

Study overview

“Previous studies by the group have found that phthalate mixtures disrupt female reproduction, change organ weights, and cause ovarian cysts. In the current study, they are looking at how these mixtures affect ovarian steroidogenesis — a process that produces hormones that are required for reproduction — in female mice offspring. The researchers also looked at folliculogenesis, which is essential for fertility. Follicles are small fluid-filled sacs inside ovaries that contain the eggs. They undergo maturation before they release the egg during ovulation.

In the study, the pregnant mice were orally given either a control or a phthalate mixture every day from the first day of pregnancy until birth. The ovaries of the female offspring were then collected 60 days after birth and the tissues and their hormone levels were analyzed. The scientists examined hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone because they are important for normal fertility and tissue maintenance.”

Results overview

The female mice whose mothers had been exposed to phthalates had lower levels of all three hormones compared to the controls. These hormones are not only crucial for reproductive health of offspring but also for cardiovascular health, bone health, and brain development.


“The main takeaway message is that if mothers are exposed to phthalates during their pregnancy, it can interfere with the female offspring’s ability to make normal levels of hormones. We saw that the mixture can inhibit the expression of important genes that are involved in making hormones.

-Dr. Jodi Flaws (EIRH co-leader/MME), and professor of comparative biosciences, University of Illnois, Urbana-Champaign

What’s next

The researchers now collaborating with other researchers in the EIRH theme to see whether male offspring are similarly affected and to see whether phthalate exposure affects other female reproductive organs. They will also investigate whether these changes get passed on to subsequent generations.

Journal Reference: Sarah Gill, Emily Brehm, Kathleen Leon, Justin Chiu, Daryl D. Meling, Jodi A. Flaws. Prenatal exposure to an environmentally relevant phthalate mixture alters ovarian steroidogenesis and folliculogenesis in the F1 generation of adult female mice. Reproductive Toxicology, 2021; 106: 25 DOI: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2021.09.013