HEALTH: Phthalates: What’s the fuss?

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News


Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 12, 2021

You can’t see, smell, or taste them, but they’re in hundreds of consumer products you use every day. They are also found in food. Phthalates, pronounced THAL-ates, are chemicals that make plastic flexible and soft.

Phthalates are even in your body. Ami Zota is an associate professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University. She says that nearly all Americans have phthalate-byproducts in their urine.

But are phthalates bad for you? We know a lot about the health effects of phthalates.

What Products Are Phthalates Found In?

You can find them in things like:

Cosmetics and personal care products such as perfume, nail polish, hair spray, soap, shampoo, and skin moisturizers
Medical tubing and fluid bags
Wood finishes
Plastic plumbing pipes
Building materials
Vinyl flooring
Shower curtains

What Foods Are High in Phthalates?

Foods linked to higher phthalate levels include:

Restaurant, cafeteria, and fast foods
High-fat dairy
Fatty meats and poultry
Cooking oils

How Do Phthalates Get Into My Body?

You get them by:

Eating or drinking things served or packaged in plastic that has phthalates
Eating or drinking dairy and meat products from animals that have been exposed
Using cosmetics, shampoo, skin moisturizers, and other personal care products
Having contact with dust in rooms where the carpet, upholstery, wall coverings, or wood finishes have phthalates

You might be more likely to get exposed if you:

Work in painting, printing, or plastics processing
Have a medical condition like kidney disease or hemophilia. Many blood transfusions and kidney dialysis use IV tubing that contains phthalates.

What Does the Research Say?

We’re still learning about how phthalates affect us. More studies on animals have been conducted than on humans.

One study links high levels of phthalate exposure to early death in older people.

The researchers looked at data on more than 5,000 adults in the U.S. They found that those between 55 and 64 years old with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to die of heart disease than those with lower levels.

People in the high-exposure group were also likelier to die of any cause. But high concentrations of phthalates didn’t seem to raise the chances of dying from cancer.

The researchers say their findings suggest that daily contact with phthalates may lead to the early deaths of about 100,000 older Americans a year, costing the country an estimated $40 billion to $47 billion in lost economic productivity each year.

But the study only suggests a link between phthalates and dying early. However, it doesn’t prove cause-and-effect. Further research is required to confirm these findings and shed light on how chemicals could cause premature death.

Other research doesn’t always address the ways phthalates and other chemicals affect each other.

It’s not just one phthalate that might cause a problem. Products and foods contain chemicals that work together.

How Do Phthalates Affect Humans?

New research areas are expanding our understanding. One example is the link between phthalates, chronic disease rates that are rising and the rise in phthalates. Others have looked at people more sensitive than others to chemicals.

Phthalates affect different groups of people in different ways:

Unborn babies and children are among the most affected. Males can be more affected by phthalates than females.
Kids in puberty are also at risk. Zota states that times when our bodies are changing make us more vulnerable.
Adult women have more side effects than men, possibly because they use more personal care products.

Are Phthalates Safe?

There’s no simple answer. Phthalates are not a single chemical. They are a whole family. They behave differently, just like any family.

Three of them — BBP, DBP, and DEHP — are permanently banned from toys and products intended to help children under 3 sleep, eat, teethe, or suck.

DBP and DEHP damage the reproductive systems of lab rats, especially males. Tests on people show DBP can irritate skin. Although we don’t know if BBP can cause cancer in humans, research has shown that it may have caused cancers in laboratory rats.

DEHP is confirmed to cause cancer in animals, and expected, but not confirmed, in people. Although it is known to cause developmental problems in animals and humans, there has not been any evidence that it can do the same for people.

Three more — DiDP, DINP, and DnOP — are under an interim ban from toys that can go into a child’s mouth.

DiDP can make your eyes and skin red or cause nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. DINP can cause tumors in laboratory rats and may cause developmental problems. In 2014, California added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer. However, it has not been shown to cause cancer in humans. DnOP was linked to endometriosis in women and caused problems in reproductive development in rats. Both humans and animals can be affected by it.

Phthalate levels in people are changing. Some levels are rising. Some are going up.

DBP, BBP, and DEHP have declined in recent years. They are now below the levels considered to be unsafe by federal health agencies. However, the risk of being exposed to replacement phthalates such as DnOP, DINP, and DIDP is much higher.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Our bodies have a natural detoxifying system. Avoiding phthalates is the best option. Here’s how to start:

Read product labels. Personal care products, such as vinyl toys or plastic toys, don’t usually include phthalates on their labels. Usually, they are identified with an acronym such as DHEP or DiBP.
When you can, choose items labeled “phthalate-free.”
Use only “microwave safe” and phthalate-free containers and plastic wrap — especially with oily or fatty foods.
Watch what you eat. Research shows that high intakes of dairy and meat can lead to high levels of phthalate exposure.
Avoid fast food. Zota and other researchers found that fast food containers can pose a risk to your health.
Ask for phthalate-free medical devices if you are on kidney dialysis or receive a blood transfusion.

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