The DANGERS of PHTHALATES
“What?!!!!” The following article was published recently in FITNESS FIRST magazine (current Sept/Oct edition) – I wanted to bring this topic to your awareness here too. Have a quick read, it might be somewhat enlightening…
WHAT ARE PHTHALATES?
Phthalates (pronounced “Thal- Ates”) are chemicals that have been used since the 1920’s to make a variety of different products. They are also known as “plasticizers” as adding them to plastics make them flexible and durable.
They are ubiquitous and are among a group of environmental toxins that also includes BPA (Bisphenol A), parabens and PCB’s. As they are not bonded within the product they are used in, they can leach out so can be absorbed orally from food/drinks, through the skin (Janjua 2008), inhalation and medical injection procedures (Schettler 2005) .
There are about 20 used commonly; those that have been banned could still be having an effect as they degrade slowly. Further, even very small amounts of phthalates can interact with other toxins and have cumulative effects. Without indulging too much on any chemical jargon, the common ones (abbreviated) used are DEHP (cheap to use), DEP, DBP , DIDP and DINP.
WHERE ARE THEY FOUND?
“72% of personal care products tested contained phthalates”- Environmental Working Group 2002
Phthalates can be found in:
- food/drink containers/wrappers
- personal care products/cosmetics (inc. perfume, eye shadow, hair spray, nail polish & moisturizers)
- PVC flooring
- wires/cables/electrical goods
- coating in some pharmaceuticals drugs
- medical intravenous bags/ tubing
- cleaning materials/detergents
- children’s toys
- glues and erasers
- shower curtains
A ban was put on DEHP in 2011 for certain products including childrens toys (less than 36 months of age) and eating utensils if the concentration of DEHP exceeded 1%.
WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED ABOUT THEM?
Phthalates have been linked to various medical problems which are outlined below.
“Almost 90% of ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products have not been safety tested for human health effects” – Breast Cancer Fund 2006
The main concern is that they have been found to mimic our hormones – together with other environmental pollutants, they are known as “endocrine disrupting chemicals”.
Studies have shown a link between breast cancer and phthalate exposure (Davis et al 1994 and Lopez-Carillo et al 2010). BBP and DBP are certainly known to act as weak oestrogens in vitro. They can bind to the oestrogen receptors and act in addition to the natural oestrogen (Jobling 1995, Kang 2005). Phthalates are also thought to play a role in early puberty trends in females.
2. Obesity, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance
Associations have been found between urinary phthalates and increased waist circumference and insulin resistance in US males (Stahlhut et al 2007) as well as insulin resistance in adolescents (Trasande et al 2013). Another recent study also showed a correlation between DEHP exposure and insulin resistance in elderly people (Kim et al 2013). So basically, numerous studies in this area indicating the effect of environmental toxins to hormone disruption in one of the biggest pandemics of our time.
Studies have found an association between allergies in children and DEHP and BBzP. There was also an association with asthma. A Bulgarian study done in 2008 also showed higher concentrations of DEHP were found in the homes of children who had asthma and allergies- compared with healthier homes.
4. Low birth weight infants
Studies conducted at the University of Michigan have found that women who delivered prematurely and up to three times the urine phthalate levels compared with women who delivered full term. A 2009 study also found that prenatal phthalate exposure was related to low birth weight in infants.
5. Abnormal fetal development
Abnormal development of male genitalia has been documented in the mothers who had phthalate exposure. This could lead to infertility in these males later in life.
6.Behavioural/Learning difficulties– Studies have shown some correlation amongst mothers prenatal exposure to phthalates and ADHD in children.
7. Other symptoms from phthalate exposure include- headaches, dizziness, chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pains, numbness and tingling, twitching and tremors.
WHAT CAN I DO TO REDUCE MY EXPOSURE TO THEM?
AVOID plastic containers/bottles with the recycling code 1, 3, 6 or 7. And if there is no number, avoid that too. (check bottom of product, there would be a number in a triangle)
1= PET (polyethylene terephthalate): Found in water bottles,soft drinks. (Or at least, don’t RE-USE)
3= PVC (polyvinyl chloride): Found in cling film, food packaging, cooking oil bottles, toys,
6= PS (polystyrene) Found in disposable plates/cups/trays, egg cartons, take away containers
7= PC (polycarbonate) and others. Found in baby bottles, large water containers
Ten Practical Tips On Reducing Your Phthalate Exposure
- Minimise use of plastic water bottles – use glass or stainless steel bottles.
- Do not heat foods/drinks in plastic in microwave ovens. In particular, do not heat plastic baby bottles in microwaves.
- Avoid plastic cookware- opt for pyrex/ ceramic containers especially for heating and storing.
- Buy natural, certified organic cosmetics/personal care products. (nearly 900 chemicals that are used in cosmetics are known to be toxic- this list includes phthalates as well as SLS and parabens- National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)
- Buy natural, eco-friendly home cleaning products.
- Open the windows! Ensure good air circulation whether you are in your car (“new car smell” is partly from phthalates, their concentration worse when car gets hot) or indoors.
- Don’t use PVC containing building/piping/ house products
- Choose safer plastic toys (some manufacturers have pledged that they are phthalate free). Or just avoid plastic toys.
- Don’t assume that just because it’s on the shelf that the product is safe!
- Don’t be tricked by words like “natural” – so is uranium!