Chemicals commonly found in personal care products could cause girls to reach puberty early, according to a new report.
Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley recently conducted a trial, published in the Human Reproductive journal, to determine how early environmental exposures affect childhood development.
“Over the past 20 years, studies have shown that girls and possibly boys have been experiencing puberty at progressively younger ages,” the team said in a statement. “This is troubling news, as earlier age at puberty has been linked with increased risk of mental illness, breast and ovarian cancer in girls and testicular cancer in boys.”
For their assessment, they recruited pregnant women living in the farm-working, primarily Latino communities of Central California’s Salinas Valley between 1999 and 2000. They then examined the mom’s urine samples during their pregnancy and the urine samples of the 338 children born.
After analyzing the results, they found daughters of mothers who had higher levels of diethyl phthalate and triclosan in their bodies while pregnant experienced puberty at younger ages.
In fact, they said every time the levels of diethyl phthalate and triclosan in the mother’s urine doubled, the timing of developmental milestones in girls shifted about one month earlier. They didn’t observe the same results in boys.
Diethyl phthalate, which is a stabilizer chemical, is often used in fragrances and cosmetics. And triclosan is used in some toothpastes.
“We know that some of the things we put on our bodies are getting into our bodies, either because they pass through the skin or we breathe them in or we inadvertently ingest them,” coauthor Kim Harley said. “We need to know how these chemicals are affecting our health.”
The researchers noted previous studies have found many of these chemicals found in personal care products, like shampoos, soaps, perfumes, interfere with reproductive development in rats.
However, the Berkeley study is one of the few to explore how the chemicals affect humans.
“We wanted to know what effect exposure to these chemicals has during certain critical windows of development, which include before birth and during puberty,” Harley said.
As scientists continue their investigations, they are advising adults to limit their exposure to the chemicals.
“While more research is needed,” Harley acknowledged, “people should be aware that there are chemicals in personal care products that may be disrupting the hormones in our bodies.”
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