A new study warns that phthalates, a family of chemical substances used primarily to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) soft and flexible, may be associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Phthalates have been used for more than 50 years and are important components of many consumer products, including toys, cleaning materials, plastics, and personal care items.
Phtalates have been widely studied with some linking exposure to hormone disruptions, birth defects, asthma, and reproductive problems, while others have found no significant association between exposure and adverse effects.
A new report by Korean scientists, published by Elsevier in the journal Biological Psychiatry, adds to the potentially alarming findings about phthalates.
They measured urine phthalate concentrations and evaluated symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) using teacher-reported symptoms and computerized tests that measured attention and impulsivity.
Researchers discovered a significant positive association between phthalate exposure and ADHD, meaning that the higher the concentration of phthalate metabolites in the urine, the worse the ADHD symptoms or test scores.
Senior author Yun-Chul Hong, MD, PhD, explained that “these data represent the first documented association between phthalate exposure and ADHD symptoms in school-aged children.”
John Krystal, MD, the editor of Biological Psychiatry, also commented: “This emerging link between phthalates and symptoms of ADHD raises the concern that accidental environmental exposure to phthalates may be contributing to behavioral and cognitive problems in children. This concern calls for more definitive research.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the summary of their 2005 Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, state that “very limited scientific information is available on potential human health effects of phthalates at levels” found in the U.S. population.
Although this study was performed in a Korean population, their levels of exposure are likely comparable to a U.S. population.
The current findings do not prove that phthalate exposure caused ADHD symptoms. However, these initial findings provide a rationale for further research on this association.