Genital birth defect blamed on hairspray

Pregnant women that are exposed to hairspray in the workplace have more than double the risk of having a son with the penile defect hypospadias, report researchers in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Hypospadias, one of the most common genital birth defects, is where the urinary opening is displaced to the underside of the penis. It can usually be successfully treated with corrective surgery after a boy reaches his first birthday, but more severe cases can lead to problems with urinating, sexual relations and fertility.

The new study, conducted by researchers from Imperial College London, University College Cork and the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, suggests that hairspray and hypospadias may be linked because of chemicals in hairspray known as phthalates. Previous studies have suggested that phthalates may disrupt the hormonal systems in the body and affect reproductive development.

The researchers reached their conclusions after conducting interviews with hundreds of London mothers whose sons had been referred to surgeons for hypospadias. Interview questions explored a range of aspects of the women’s health and lifestyle, including the mother’s occupation and possible exposure to different chemical substances, family history of disease, maternal occupation, smoking and use of folate supplements. Previous studies had suggested that hypospadias might be linked to vegetarianism, but the new study did not show any increased risk in women who had a vegetarian diet.

The new research also revealed that taking folic acid supplements in the first three months of pregnancy is associated with a 36 percent reduced risk of bearing a son with the condition. “It is encouraging that our study showed that taking folic acid supplements in pregnancy may reduce the risk of a child being born with the condition. Further research is needed to understand better why women exposed to hairspray at work in the first 3 months of pregnancy may have increased risk of giving birth to a boy with hypospadias,” concluded researcher Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London.

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Source: Imperial College London

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