Disease & Illness

Household Chemicals Can Affect Thyroid In Young Girls

Here's what to know to keep your kids safe.

According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of people in the United States will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.

Women are much more likely than men to experience a thyroid problem at some point. In fact, one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.

However, new research suggests that these conditions might start much earlier in life and may even be preventable.

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health collected levels of five phthalates and two thyroid hormones from 229 women during pregnancy and 229 children at age three as part of the mothers and newborns study at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. The results were pretty interesting.

doctor photo
Getty Images | Christopher Furlong

But first, what are phthalates exactly? The U.S. National Library of Medicine says that phthalates are chemicals used in plastic, vinyl, cosmetic, personal care products and a number of other common household products such as detergents, adhesives and building materials. These chemicals even create that beloved “new car smell” people like so much.

Girls who were exposed to specific phthalates had lower thyroid function. Just as more women develop thyroid conditions, the study showed that the young girls were more vulnerable than boys to the thyroid-disrupting chemicals.

Promoting thyroid health is essential to overall well-being, as this hormonal gland affects metabolism, growth and maturation. When the butterfly-shaped organ in the front of the neck is not working properly, people can experience everything from weight gain, fatigue and depression to a racing heart, insomnia and hair loss.

The effects of phthalates on the endocrine system have been well documented, and regulations have been created to help keep the public safe. The state of California requires products containing chemicals that may cause cancer or disrupt hormones to be packaged with a warning label, for example. And in 2009, the federal government banned certain phthalates from use in children’s toys.

phthalates photo
Flickr | Francis Storr

Pam Factor-Litvak, one of the study’s lead researchers and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia, recommends that parents of young children avoid using products containing phthalates as well.

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“The thyroid acts as the master controller of brain development,” Factor-Litvak said in a university news release. “Thyroid hormones set the schedule, and if the timing is out of synch, there may be later consequences in the brain. The thyroid disruptions we see in this study, although they fall within the normal range, could explain some of the cognitive problems we see in children exposed to phthalates and we are currently investigating that. As we know from lead, even small exposures can make a big difference.”

Although prenatal exposure to phthalates did not appear to affect thyroid function in the children studied, avoiding these chemicals during pregnancy is wise. Prior research by the school has found links between prenatal exposure and risk for lower IQ and asthma, as well as mental and motor development problems in young children.

Check out this Huffington Post article for a list of products that commonly contain phthalates and how to identify the chemicals from a list of ingredients.

If you’re wondering how you can tell when your thyroid is out of whack, we put together this list of symptoms you should watch out for.

Signs Of An Under-Active Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

  • Feeling cold almost all the time
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Extremely heavy periods
  • Constipation
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Hoarse voice
  • Sad or depressed
  • A puffy face

Signs Of An Overactive Thyroid (Hyperthyroidism)

  • Feeling hot almost all the time
  • Clammy hands or and/or increased sweating
  • A racing heart (particularly during exercise)
  • Weight loss
  • Very light periods
  • Diarrhea or increased bowel movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trembling in your hands or fingers
  • Eye changes (bulging, red, or irritated eyes)
  • Difficulty sleeping

If you have several of the signs above, it’s best to visit a doctor.

British actress Lorna Nickson Brown also suggests keeping a close eye on your body. She and her family began to suspect something wasn’t quite right when a lump appeared on the front of her throat.

“My mum noticed a lump on the front left side of my neck. She thought I lost a bit of weight, but three months later I visited the GP who confirmed that it was a thyroid nodule,” she told Indy100.

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Brown hadn’t noticed any other symptoms before this, either.