Association of prenatal exposure to phthalates and synthetic phenols with pubertal development in three European cohorts

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2024 Jul 3:261:114418. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2024.114418. Online ahead of print.


Background: There is limited epidemiological evidence on the association of prenatal exposure to phthalates and synthetic phenols with altered pubertal timing.

Objective: To examine the association of prenatal exposure to phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), parabens, benzophenone 3 (BP-3), and triclosan (TCS) with pubertal development in girls and boys from three European cohorts.

Methods: Urinary metabolites of six different phthalate diesters (DEP, DiBP, DnBP, BBzP, DEHP, and DiNP), BPA, methyl- (MePB), ethyl- (EtPB), propyl- (PrPB), and butyl-paraben (BuPB), BP-3, and TCS were quantified in one or two (1st and 3rd trimester) urine samples collected during pregnancy (1999-2008) from mothers in three birth cohorts: INMA (Spain), EDEN (France), and MoBa (Norway). Pubertal development of their children was assessed at a single visit at age 7-12 years (579 girls, 644 boys) using the parent-reported Pubertal Development Scale (PDS). Mixed-effect Poisson and g-computation and Bayesian Kernel Machine Regression (BKMR) were employed to examine associations of individual and combined prenatal chemical exposure, respectively, with the probability of overall pubertal onset, adrenarche, and gonadarche (stage 2+) in girls and boys. Effect modification by child body mass index (BMI) was also assessed.

Results: Maternal concentrations of the molar sum of DEHP and of DiNP metabolites were associated with a slightly higher probability of having started puberty in boys (relative risk, RR [95% CI] = 1.13 [0.98-1.30] and 1.20 [1.06-1.34], respectively, for a two-fold increase in concentrations), with a stronger association for DiNP in boys with overweight or obesity. In contrast, BPA, BuPB, EtPB, and PrPB were associated with a lower probability of pubertal onset, adrenarche, and/or gonadarche in all boys (e.g. overall puberty, BPA: RR [95% CI] = 0.93 [0.85-1.01] and BuPB: 0.95 [0.90-1.00], respectively), and the association with BPA was stronger in boys with underweight/normal weight. In girls, MEHP and BPA were associated with delayed gonadarche in those with underweight/normal weight (RR [95% CI] = 0.86 [0.77-0.95] and 0.90 [0.84-0.97], respectively). Most of these associations were trimester specific. However, the chemical mixture was not associated with any pubertal outcome in boys or girls.

Conclusions: Prenatal exposure to certain phthalates and synthetic phenols such as BPA may impact the pubertal development of boys, and weight status may modify this effect. BPA may also alter the pubertal development of girls.

Keywords: Bisphenol a; Endocrine-disrupting chemicals; Phenols; Phthalates; Puberty.