Urinary phthalate metabolites are associated with decreased serum testosterone in men, women, and children from NHANES 2011-2012

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Nov;99(11):4346-52. doi: 10.1210/jc.2014-2555. Epub 2014 Aug 14.


Context: There is evidence of declining trends in T levels among men in recent decades, as well as trends in related conditions at multiple life stages and in both sexes. There is also animal and limited human evidence that exposure to phthalates, chemicals found in plastics and personal care products, is associated with reduced androgen levels and associated disorders.

Objective: To explore relationships between urinary concentrations of 13 phthalate metabolites and serum total T levels among men, women, and children when adjusting for important confounders and stratifying by sex and age (6-12, 12-20, 20-40, 40-60, and 60-80 y).

Design: A cross-sectional study.

Setting: US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2012.

Patients or other participants: US general population.

Interventions: None.

Main outcome measures: Serum total T measured by isotope dilution-liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

Results: Multiple phthalates were associated with significantly reduced T in both sexes and in differing age groups. In females, the strongest and most consistent inverse relationships were found among women ages 40-60 years. In boys 6-12 years old, an interquartile range increase in metabolites of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate was associated with a 29% (95% confidence interval, 6, 47) reduction in T. In adult men, the only significant or suggestive inverse associations between phthalates (metabolites of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate) and T were observed among men ages 40-60 years.

Conclusions: Because T plays an important role in all life stages for both sexes, future efforts should focus on better defining these relationships and their broader impacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Phthalic Acids / metabolism*
  • Phthalic Acids / urine
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Phthalic Acids
  • Testosterone
  • phthalic acid