Reproductive and developmental effects of phthalate diesters in males
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Phthalate diesters are a diverse group of chemicals used to make plastics flexible and are found in personal care products, medical equipment, and medication capsules. Ubiquitous in the environment, human exposure to phthalates is unavoidable; however, the clinical relevance of low concentrations in human tissues remains uncertain. The epidemiological literature was inadequate for prior reviews to conclusively evaluate the effects of phthalates on male reproductive tract development and function, but recent studies have expanded the literature. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review of the literature focused on the effects of phthalate exposure on the developing male reproductive tract, puberty, semen quality, fertility, and reproductive hormones. We conclude that although the epidemiological evidence for an association between phthalate exposure and most adverse outcomes in the reproductive system, at concentrations to which general human populations are exposed, is minimal to weak, the evidence for effects on semen quality is moderate. Results of animal studies reveal that, although DEHP was the most potent, different phthalates have similar effects and can adversely affect development of the male reproductive tract with semen quality being the most sensitive outcome. We also note that developmental exposure in humans was within an order of magnitude of the adverse effects documented in several animal studies. While the mechanisms underlying phthalate toxicity remain unclear, the animal literature suggests that mice are less sensitive than rats and potentially more relevant to estimating effects in humans. Potential for chemical interactions and effects across generations highlights the need for continued study.
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