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Animal Studies on Phthalates

Research and developed by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, Ph.D.
Updated Nov. 2004. For references click here.

Since you can control what laboratory animals are exposed to, some cause-and-effect health relationships in lab mammals are known. Many studies have shown that various phthalates, including DEHP, are hormone disruptors with estrogenic and/or anti-androgenic actions (and carcinogenic in some studies). The intrauterine, neonatal and pubertal periods are critical periods of sensitivity to the effects of hormone disruption.

  • Developmental toxicity: Exposure during pregnancy produces reduced implantations, increased embryo resorptions, decreased fetal weight and increased malformations (see 21 & 56 for reviews).
  • Male and female reproductive toxicity: In utero exposure causes male infertility with atrophy of the testes and seminiferous tubules (the network of tubes in the testes where sperm cells are found) and decreased sperm production (see 21, 41, 58 for reviews). One phthalate, DBP, has been shown to suppress genes important in the synthesis of testosterone and the development of the male reproductive tract - exposure was at levels comparable to current human exposures.(76) The most recent research confirms the toxic effects on testicular function in male rats exposed at weaning to chronic, low, environmentally relevant levels of DEHP.(13) Female infertility also results from phthalate suppression of ovarian estrogen production and anovulation.(21, 54)
  • Carcinogenic: Certain phthalates cause liver cancer in some mammalian species.(22)
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