This review discusses the evidence linking industrial chemicals to a variety of health and reproductive outcomes. Industrial chemical production has increased over the past 30 to 40 years. Basic science, animal models, and epidemiologic data suggest that certain chemicals may act as endocrine disruptors (substances that interfere with normal hormonal action) and may play an etiologic role in a number of conditions whose incidence has also increased during this same period. These include low birth weight, gestational diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, certain birth defects, and neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit disorder and autism. In addition, some environmental chemicals may have epigenetic effects, resulting in transgenerational health impacts. The epidemiologic and experimental evidence that links chemicals such as plasticizers (eg, phthalates and phenols), flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, and pesticides with adverse reproductive health outcomes is reviewed. Women's health care providers are the liaison between scientific research and their patients; they should educate themselves on the significance of environmental toxins to health. They are ideally positioned, not only to counsel and reassure pregnant women, but also to suggest practicable changes in dietary and lifestyle habits to improve their health. Furthermore, women's health care providers should advocate for regulatory changes that protect women and their families from the health effects of environmental toxins.
Keywords: bisphenol; endocrine disruption; environment; perfluorinated compound; pesticide; phenol; phthalate; polyvinyl chloride; pregnancy; prenatal; toxin.
© 2016 by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.