Mothers who ate a vegetarian diet during pregnancy
had a five-time greater risk of delivering a boy with hypospadias, a birth
defect of the penis. The research team suggests that phytoestrogens, hormone-like
compounds found in soy, may be responsible for the link.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that mothers
who took iron supplements and those who had influenza in the first 3 months
of pregnancy also had a higher risk of having a baby boy with hypospadias.
The authors suggest that more research is needed to see if any of the
associations found in the study actually cause the birth defect.
It is important to note that there is biological evidence
that vegetarians have a greater exposure
to phytoestrogens and thus a causal link is biologically feasible.
Hypospadias is a birth defect where the opening of
the penis is found on the underside of the penis rather than at the tip.
It is a common congenital defect, affecting about 1 in 300 newborn males.
The condition requires surgery to correct it, where the foreskin is used
to repair the problem. Untreated, it can interfere with urination and
The investigators asked mothers to fill out questionnaires
during pregnancy regarding obstetric history, lifestyle, and dietary practices.
Of 7,928 boys born to mothers participating in the study, 51 cases of
hypospadias were identified.
Mothers with a vegetarian
diet in the first half of pregnancy had a 4.99 times greater risk
of having a boy with hypospadias compared with mothers who included meat
in their diets, the researchers report. In addition, mothers who took
iron supplements had double the normal risk of having a boy with hypospadias,
and influenza during the first 3 months of pregnancy increased the risk
of by just over three times.
International January 2000;85:107-113