Researchers found that baby boys born to moms with greater exposure to a chemical called DiNP tended to have a shorter anogenital distance — the space between the genitals and anus. Anogenital distance is set in the womb, and it’s considered a marker of exposure to androgens (“male” hormones) during pregnancy.
The researchers said their findings, published online Oct. 29 in Environmental Health Perspectives, add to concerns about the possible effects of certain plasticizers on the male reproductive system.
But the authors also acknowledged that the study points to a correlation between DiNP and boys’ anogenital distance, and not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the findings are in line with some research on certain other chemicals in the same group, known collectively as phthalates.
Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more flexible. They are used in a huge range of products, from electrical cables, auto parts and construction materials to cosmetics, shoes and toys (though U.S. manufacturers stopped using them in pacifiers, teething rings and rattles in 1999). People can also be exposed to low levels of phthalates in food, since much of the food supply comes in contact with plastics.
For people who want to limit their phthalate exposure, researchers suggested eating fewer processed foods and more whole foods. Also avoid storing and microwaving foods in recyclable plastic containers; containers with the recycling codes 3, 6 or 7 can contain phthalates or another chemical called BPA.