Exposure to endocrine disruptors during pregnancy might harm neurodevelopment in offspring

A recently published study shows that exposure to a mixture of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) in early pregnancy might have adverse impacts on brain development and language acquisition in offspring, even when the levels of individual EDC are within the regulatory limit.  

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that mimic, block, or interfere with hormones in the body's endocrine system. Humans are simultaneously exposed to a variety of EDCs through food, air, water, etc. nowadays; and there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence showing severe impacts of these substances on human health.  

However, these studies often focus solely on a single EDC. Thus, regulations on the use of ECDs are based entirely on the risk assessment of the individual substance, neglecting the fact that humans are exposed to multiple EDCs at the same time.  

In contrast, the newly published study carried out under the EU-funded EDC-MixRisk project employed a mixture-centered risk assessment approach. The scientist examined chemical exposure data in the Swedish Environmental Longitudinal, Mother and child, Asthma and allergy (SELMA) pregnancy cohort, which includes approximately 2 000 mother-child pairs. They identify a mixture of EDCs in the blood and urine of pregnant women in the cohort, associated with delayed language development in 30-month old children. This mixture is combined with a number of phthalates, bisphenol A, and perfluorinated chemicals, which are commonly used in food packaging and cookware. Experimental studies were then implemented, revealing that at a human-relevant level, this mixture disrupted the regulation of endocrine circuits and genes involved in autism and intellectual disability. As a result, the study found a higher risk of language delay in offspring in 54% of pregnant women who are exposed to the EDC mixture.  

The study has not only highlighted the adverse health impacts of humans’ exposure to EDC mixture but also emphasised the need to properly consider EDCs mixture in risk assessments and chemical regulations.