Language delays linked to environmental chemicals

January 30, 2019

A recent study published in the December 2018 JAMA Pediatrics found that language delays in children could be linked to phthalates in the environment. 

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to make plastics harder to break and more flexible as solvents. Hundreds of household products contain phthalates in many forms. Vinyl flooring and wall coverings, nail polish, perfumes and air fresheners all contain phthalates. Even toys and many of the plastics we use daily with our children contain phthalates.

The study included 963 children and mothers from Sweden who participated in the Swedish Environmental Longitudinal Mother and Child, Asthma and Allergy Study, and 370 mothers and children from the United States who participated in the Infant Development and the Environment Study.

Mothers provided urine samples early in the pregnancy and the presence of phthalates was measured. Parents filled out a questionnaire about their child’s language development levels at about 2-3 years old.

Study author Shanna Swan said, “When you compare the risk of language delay in mothers with high exposure versus low exposure, it was double the risk. They were twice as likely to have language delay." Swan is a professor in the department of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.

Previously known risks of phthalates exposure include hormonal changes, asthma, miscarriage or stillbirth, genitourinary malformations for males and females, menstrual disorders, preterm delivery, rhinitis and testicular toxicity. And with this newest study, delayed language development in children is added to the list.

In a naturopathic healthcare setting, a thorough environmental assessment is critical. This includes a body burden assessment which tests six major classes of environmental toxicant.

For preconception and pediatric care, liver function and improved detoxification practices are important treatment goals. Nutrition is a foundation for all healing, and choosing what we eat is even more important when we wish to protect ourselves from environmental toxins.

Avoidance of these chemicals in the home as much as possible is one of the first steps one can take to make an impact on one’s child and own health. Naturopathic efforts to reduce exposures to phthalates and other environmental risk factors can have lasting effects on generations and the quality of living for all children.

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Kim Furtado, ND, is a naturopathic doctor at Quakertown Wellness Center, 1143 Savannah Road, Suite 4, Lewes. She specializes in science-based, patient-focused, natural medicine. To make an appointment, call 302-945-2107 or go to

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