Chemicals in Shampoos and Toys 'Could Lead to Low Birth Weight'
Chemicals widely used in shampoos, toys, hairspray and cosmetics could harm the growth of unborn babies, a new study suggests.
LONDON - Scientists found that the compounds were linked to a low birth weight, which can increase the chance that a child will die in the first few weeks of life and lead to long-term health problems such as heart disease.
Researchers believe that exposure to the chemicals in the womb could inhibit the children's growth.
Previous studies have shown that the chemicals, called Phthalates, can have other effects on the human body, including reduced fertility in men.
The new study analysed blood and other samples taken from 201 newborns, 88 of whom were born weighing less than 2,500g (5.5lb).
Researchers found that more than seven in 10 of the babies had significant levels of the chemicals in their bodies.
Those with a low birth weight had, on average, around 30 per cent higher levels of phthalates than the other children, the findings, published in the Journal Of Paediatrics show.
Dr. Renshan Ge, from Fudan University and Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, said: "The results showed that phthalate exposure was ubiquitous in these newborns, and that prenatal phthalate exposure might be an environmental risk factor for low birth weight in infants."
Although larger studies need to be carried out to verify the findings, the authors said that the results suggested that minimising their exposure to the chemicals could be beneficial to unborn children.
Prof Charles Tyler, an expert in phthalates from the University of Exeter, said: "This study certainly adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that phthalates can have a wide range of effects on the body.
"It does appear to show a link between phthalates and a low birth weight. These correlations look real, but they are still just correlations.
"At the end of the day we need to know whether this is causative and if there are other compounds which are having even more impact on determining low birth weight."
Previous studies have shown that the chemicals can affect hormones in the body, potentially leading to fertility problems.
Earlier this year a report warned that phthalates were part of a group of chemicals which were linked to infertility in later life.
Widely used in industry since the 1930s, phthalates are also found in glues and paints, and added to plastics to make them more flexible.
In Europe, certain phthalates have been banned from hairsprays and other products since early 2005.
But they are still found in many cosmetics, including deodorants, perfumes, and nail varnish, as well as hairspray.