Association between pregnancy loss and urinary phthalate levels around the time of conception

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Mar;120(3):458-63. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103552. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


Background: Animal studies indicate that some phthalate metabolites may harm female reproductive function.

Objectives: We assessed the associations between exposure to phthalate metabolites and pregnancy loss.

Methods: Using a previously established cohort of couples planning their first pregnancy, we analyzed four primary and two oxidized secondary phthalate metabolites in urine samples collected on day 10 after the first day of the last menstrual period before conception occurred (n = 128) and during the previous cycle (if any, n = 111). Subclinical embryonal loss was identified by repeated measurement of urinary human chorionic gonadotropin, and information on clinical spontaneous abortions was obtained by telephone interview with the mother.

Results: Pregnancy loss (n = 48) was increased among women with urinary concentration of monoethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP) in the upper tertile in the conception sample compared with women in the lowest tertile [adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 2.9; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.1, 7.6]. The corresponding OR for subclinical embryonal loss (n = 32) was 40.7 (95% CI: 4.5, 369.5).

Conclusions: The phthalate metabolite MEHP was associated with higher occurrence of pregnancy loss. Because this is the first human study to show this association and the sample size is small, the findings need to be corroborated in independent studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / chemically induced*
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Female
  • Fertilization
  • Humans
  • Phthalic Acids / metabolism
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Phthalic Acids / urine
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids