They’re everywhere. We’re exposed to them every day.
And while we already had a good idea that they could be harmful new research has revealed they could be triggering chronic, and even deadly, diseases.
Phthalates are common chemicals used in plastics to soften and bind them.
And they’re hiding in countless things were exposed to daily including food packaging, fast food wrappings, toys, shampoos, flooring, perfumes, soaps, shower curtains, air fresheners, cosmetics, medications, medical devices and more.
For years we’ve been warning readers about these potential endocrine disruptors.
They’re one of the most abundant industrial pollutants found in the environment.
Experts say they can be detected in the blood and urine or nearly everyone on the planet. Higher concentrations of them are found in us as we age, and in folks who eat a typical Western diet.
Earlier research has hinted at connections between phthalates and weight gain, allergies, asthma and other diseases. And they may interfere with the proper development of the male reproductive tract.1
Phthalates in plastic linked to dangerous diseases
But now researchers at the University of Adelaide have found a link between these creepy chemicals and some of the most prevalent and dangerous diseases plaguing us today: heart disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
For the study, published in the international journal Environmental Research, researchers tested the urine of 1500 men.2 Phthalates were found in 99.6 percent of the men tested who were 35 or older.
And when they dug into the medical histories of the men a disturbing pattern emerged.
When they bumped phthalates levels up against the men’s history of chronic disease and illness they found that cases of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure were significantly higher among the guys with the highest phthalate levels.
Adjusting for things like weight, other conditions linked to chronic diseases, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors didn’t do a thing to erase the connection either. The link between the men with the highest levels of these everywhere chemicals and the serious diseases remained.
And while this study was on men there’s every reason to believe the results would be the same, or similar, in women.
More research needs to be done to pinpoint the exact reasons phthalates send your chronic disease risk skyrocketing. But scientists already have some good ideas.
Phthalates effect the endocrine system, which is responsible for releasing the hormones that govern many of the systems in your body including metabolism, body growth, sexual development and function.
In other words, the chemicals could be doing damage to systems that effect nearly every part of your body from head to toe.
But the impact of these common chemicals doesn’t end there. The researchers also reported that higher levels of phthalates were associated with higher levels of a number of inflammatory biomarkers in the men’s bodies.
4 tips to limit your phthalate exposure
I’d love to tell you the answer is to simply avoid these creepy chemicals and you’ll be fine. Unfortunately because of how widespread they are that’s next to impossible.
But there are things you can do to limit your exposure.
1. Diet do over:
We know from earlier studies that folks who eat less fresh fruits and vegetables, and more processed and packaged foods and carbonated beverages, have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.
So it’s time for a diet do over. Make a commitment to keeping the processed and packaged foods in your diet to a minimum. Fill up your plate with organic fruits and vegetables, pick products marked organic whenever possible and cook fresh grass fed meats.
You’ll not only reduce your phthalate exposure, all that good food will boost your overall health at the same time.
2. Skip the artificial scents:
Unfortunately phthalates are rarely listed on a label so you’re going to need to do some deductive reasoning to figure out where you might be getting exposed.
One of the points of exposure for many of us are cosmetic products or air fresheners with scents. If you spot the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on a label it’s typically a red flag that you’re dealing with phthalates.
The good news is you CAN still use products with scents, you just want to choose ones that make it clear on the label that they’re using natural fragrances. For safer scented products look for ones that are made with essential oils or are marked with phrases like “no synthetic fragrances” or even “phthalate free.”
To find safer, phthalate free cosmetic products check out the Skin Deep database maintained by our friends over at the Environmental Working Group website.
3. Pitch the plastics:
If you have a child, grandchild niece or nephew in your life toss any hand-me-down soft plastic toys, teethers, bottles or food related items. These days’ phthalates are banned in these kinds of products, but for anything made before around 2009 all bets are off.
Avoid heating or reheating foods in plastic containers, make the switch to glass or ceramic for microwaving. Harmful chemicals, including phthalates, could leach into your food. And if you’re still using plastic food containers toss any marked with a 3 or 7 recycling code, which is a good sign they contain phthalates.
4. Consider investing in a water filter:
A water filtering system may remove, or at least reduce, phthalates from your drinking water.
The EPA has recommended granular activated carbon (GAC) filtering systems for removing DEHP, the type of phthalate found in plastic PVC water pipes.3,4,5 Other experts suggest a nano-filtration or reverse osmosis system, which while pricier may be more effective.
Don’t let phthalates make you sick or drive you into an early grave. Start reducing your phthalate exposure starting today.
1. “Aggregate Exposures to Phthalates in Humans,” Health Care Without Harm, July 2002, fda.gov
2. “The association between total phthalate concentration and non-communicable diseases and chronic inflammation in South Australian urban dwelling men,” Environmental Research, 2017; 158: 366
3. “Removal of Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals Using Drinking Water Treatment Processes,”EPA/625/R-00/015, March 2001, Technology Transfer and Support Division, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
4. “Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), IARC Monographs Vol 77, 2000.
5. “Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate in Drinking-water Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality
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