There is a STRONG link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and vitamin D deficiency

Image: There is a STRONG link between exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and vitamin D deficiency

It seems that the sky’s the limit when it comes to the toxic effects of BPA and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. BPA and similar chemicals are known for their deleterious effects on the endocrine system,  cardiovascular system, and their ability to cause infertility and more. But recent research has shown that the hazards of BPA and other endocrine disruptors can even cause vitamin D deficiency — which can cause a whole host of other health issues.

Time and time again, big businesses manage to get their toxic chemicals approved by governing officials. And it is only after these toxins have become persistent in our environment, and exposure has become inevitable, that the true, sinister nature of these poisons is revealed.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is an extremely important nutrient that is responsible for many functions in the body. In addition to promoting bone health, vitamin D is highly regarded for its brain and immune system benefits. Consequently, deficiency in this nutrient is quite the concern. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an array of problems, including deficits in brain function and increased mortality risk. Vitamin D deficiency is something you want to avoid, to say the least.

A study by the Endocrine Society has shown that in addition to all the other ill effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) like BPA, these toxins can cause vitamin D deficiency, too. Published in 2016, the Society’s examination of over 1300 studies on EDCs also found links to infertility, obesity, diabetes, neurological problems and hormone-related cancers, among other ails.

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Lauren Johns, MPH, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the study’s first author, commented on the research.

“Nearly every person on the planet is exposed to BPA and another class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals called phthalates, so the possibility that these chemicals may even slightly reduce vitamin D levels has widespread implications for public health,” she explained.

“Vitamin D plays a broad role in maintaining bone and muscle health. In addition, low vitamin D levels have been implicated in outcomes of numerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer,” Johns added.

Based on the team’s findings, people exposed to large amounts of EDCs are more prone to vitamin D deficiency — with women being more strongly affected than then men.

Professor John D. Meeker, MS, ScD, and senior author of the study, stated that more research is needed to understand how EDCs disrupt vitamin D levels. Meeker posited, “[B]ut it is possible that EDCs alter the active form of vitamin D in the body through some of the same mechanisms that they use to impact similar reproductive and thyroid hormones.” However, this is only a theory so far.

Hidden danger: EDCs are everywhere

As Natural Health 365 reports, EDCs like BPA are everywhere. There are over 85,000 manufactured chemicals on the market today, and many thousands of those are EDCs. BPA can be found in everything from water bottles to dental fillings, and is also used in medical devices, eyeglass lenses, sports equipment and and array of electronics. And that’s just one chemical — there are many other hormone-disrupting chemicals out there.

Phthalates, for example, are used in a litany of products, including personal care products, cosmetics, food packaging and more. Phthalates are also known for their ability to disrupt endocrine function and other adverse effects. Some ways you can reduce exposure to these compounds include choosing products that are BPA- and phthalate-free. Selecting glass, ceramic or other natural materials over plastic when possible is another tip.

Parabens and Phthalates: What Patients May Want to Know

With the internet available at everyone’s fingertips, and seemingly endless ads for skincare and cosmetic products, patients often come to an appointment with questions and misinformation. Every month on Dermatology Times, Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, tackles these conundrums. Here’s a selection of her most popular articles.

1. How can moisturizers improve the appearance of aging hands?

Hand moisturization is difficult to accomplish because the hands are washed more frequently than any other body part, thus experiencing both chemical and physical trauma.

2. Why does skin feel tight after cleansing?

No one knows exactly why skin feels tight after cleansing, however there is one general theory which is widely accepted.

3. What are the safety concerns associated with parabens?

Safety concerns over parabens arose because they mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors. What could this mean for patients?

4. What is an ultra-hydrating and therapeutic moisturizer?

The terms ultra-hydrating and therapeutic, as they pertain to moisturizer formulation, are pure marketing gibberish — with tremendous consumer appeal.

5. What is a nourishing hair shampoo?

The word “nourishing” is truly a cosmetic term with no medical meaning. Nevertheless, consumers ascribe a positive meaning to this term.

6. Do digital beauty advisor devices work?

The digital beauty advisor is a digitized mirror providing personalized skin care information and day-to-day comparative health evaluations.

7. The impact of facial foundation on luminosity

“Luminosity,” is often used to describe facial appearance after applying facial foundation. What is luminosity?

8. The concerns around phthalates

One of the most concerning group of chemicals are phthalates, which are used as plasticizers to increase the flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity of plastics.

9. Common terms in skincare marketing: sensitive skin

One of the most commonly used terms is “sensitive skin.” It is important for the dermatologist to understand the value of such terminology and the associated implications.

10. Does dry shampoo work?

Just as facial blotting papers are used to control facial sebum, dry shampoos are used to control scalp sebum.

How Clothes and Personal Care Products Destroy the Environment and Circulate Plastic Back Into the Food Supply

Story at-a-glance

  • Plastics can be found in virtually every area of your household: in containers of all kinds, bags, baby items, electronics and even clothing and personal care products, in the form of microfibers and microbeads
  • Microbeads, tiny plastic pellets found in body washes, facial scrubs and toothpaste travel right through wastewater treatment plants, clogging waterways and filling the bellies of sea animals with plastic that acts as a sponge for toxins
  • Plastic microfibers from clothing also pose a serious threat to marine life and migrate into fields and onto our plates, inside of fish and other seafood

While most of our grandparents used natural products packaged in reusable, recyclable or degradable containers made from glass, metals and paper, the current generation has grown up surrounded by non-biodegradable plastics made with toxic chemicals.

Saying that plastics are “everywhere” is hardly an exaggeration anymore. You can find it in virtually every area of your household: in containers of all kinds, bags, baby items, electronics and even clothing and personal care products, in the form of microfibers and microbeads.

Discarded plastic — both large and microscopic — circles the globe, choking our oceans and polluting our food supply, ultimately finding their way into your body where they can accumulate over time.

And, the potential for catastrophic environmental and biological consequences grows with every discarded bottle and bag, with every shower and every load of wash.

Plastic — A Most Harmful Convenience

Many of the chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics, like bisphenol-A (BPA) and bisphenol-S (BPS), disrupt embryonic development and have been linked to obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Phthalates dysregulate gene expression and hormones, causing anomalies that may be passed down to future generations. DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate), found in PVC pipes, may lead to multiple organ damage.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, the world produces about 299 million tons of plastics annually, and up to 20 million tons of it ends up in our oceans each year.1The UN’s Environmental Program claims there are at least 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean.2

Polycarbonate, polystyrene and polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) damage the ocean floor, and plastic that floats, such as low-density polyethelene (LDPE), high-density polyethelene (HDPE), polypropylene and foamed plastics accumulate into massive floating islands of trash.3

Microfibers4 from clothing pose a serious threat to marine life and migrate into fields and onto our plates.

And microbeads, the tiny plastic pellets found in body washes, facial scrubs and toothpaste travel right through wastewater treatment plants, clogging waterways and filling the bellies of sea animals with plastic that acts as a sponge for other toxins.

Whether you look at environmental or biological effects, our careless use of plastics really needs immediate attention and revision.

Microbeads Pose Severe Environmental Hazards

According to a previous National Geographic report,5 an estimated 4,360 tons of microbeads were used in personal care products sold in the European Union (EU) in 2012, all of which get flushed down the drain.

According to one 2015 study,6 there may be as much as 236,000 tons of microbeads filling the water columns of our oceans. As noted by National Geographic:

“A study completed in 2015 from Environmental Science & Technology alarmingly found that [8] trillion microbeads were entering aquatic environments throughout the United States every day.

This troubling statistic poses the question of how such massive quantities of microplastics are impacting aquatic wildlife

… As reiterated from the study by the French Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea, ‘Oysters that consume microplastics eat more algae and absorb it more efficiently … [their] ability to reproduce is almost halved’ …

Filter feeding organisms are vital components of marine food webs, and their demise could mean severe threats to numerous trophic levels, and perhaps to the humans who rely on these species as a source of food.

Another concern with these foreign particles entering the oceans is that the chemicals comprising microplastics are causing reproductive complications in oysters, which is a very important point …

Chemical toxins such as DDT and BPA have been found to adhere to microplastic particles … which then ‘enter the food chain when ingested by aquatic life, accumulating in birds, fish, marine mammals and potentially humans.'”

US and Canada Ban Microbeads While EU Dawdles

In response to the Environmental Science & Technology study mentioned above, then-President Obama signed a bill in December, 2015, banning the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products to protect U.S. waterways.7 The ban takes effect as of July this year.

Beginning July, 2018, microbeads will also no longer be permitted in cosmetics, and as of July 2019, they must be eliminated from over-the-counter drugs sold in the U.S. as well.8 As of July, 2018, a ban on microbeads in personal care products also takes effect in Canada,9 while the EU has taken no action on the matter.

According to a recent article in the British paper Independent,10 the U.K.’s decision to follow suit in banning microbeads from cosmetics “could be in breach of EU free trade law,” and if it’s determined that banning microbeads would “restrict free movement of trade,” the U.K.’s ban would likely be significantly delayed and ultimately unenforceable. The U.K. alone contributes up to 86 tons of microbeads into waterways each year.11

Microfibers From Clothing Add to the Plastic Pollution

Microfibers are another common water contaminant, and acrylic fibers release the most microparticles.12 Testing reveals each washing of a synthetic fleece jacket releases 1.7 grams of microfiber, and the older the jacket, the more microfibers are released.13

Different types of machines also release different amounts of fibers and chemicals from your clothes. Researchers found that top loading machines released about 530 percent more microfibers than front loading models.14

Up to 40 percent of these microfibers leave the wastewater treatment plant and end up in the surrounding lakes, rivers and oceans. To address the problem, scientists are now calling for appliance companies to consider the addition of filters to catch the microfibers.15

Wexco is currently the exclusive distributor of the Filtrol 160 filter,16 designed to capture non-biodegradable fibers from your washing machine discharge. However, it doesn’t actually solve the problem in the long-term, since the fibers will simply end up in landfills instead.

Plastic Microparticles Threaten Ocean Life in Many Ways

Once in the water column, all this plastic micro-debris blocks sunlight, which plankton and algae require to sustain themselves, and the ramifications of this reverberates throughout the entire food chain. Astonishingly, in some ocean waters, plastic exceeds plankton by a factor of 6 to 1.17

Microfibers released during washing has also been shown to raise mortality among water fleas.18 In another study, the presence of the plastic fibers reduced the overall food intake of crabs, worms and langoustines (aka Norway lobster), thereby threatening their growth and survival rates.19,20 Not surprisingly, researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) have linked microplastics and microfibers to the pollution in fish.21

The tiny beads cleverly mimic natural food sources, and the microfibers, which are even more prevalent than microbeads, are even easier to consume, both by fish and other seafood. Research shows these particles are not likely to leave, however. Once consumed, they tend to remain in the body and accumulate, becoming increasingly concentrated in the bodies of animals higher up the food chain.

When Abigail Barrows, chief investigator for Global Microplastics Initiative, sampled 2,000 marine and freshwater fish, 90 percent had microfiber debris in their bodies. Near identical results were reported by Amy Lusher, a microplastics researcher based in the U.K. who co-authored a 2014 study22 on microplastic pollution in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean.

Microfibers have also been found in most water samples collected from the Hudson River,23 and studies show concentrations of fibers tend to be particularly high in beach sediment near waste water treatment plants.24 Making matters worse, these microscopic plastic fibers soak up toxins like a sponge, concentrating PCBs, flame retardant chemicals, pesticides and anything else found in the water.

And, since many of these toxins bind to fats, the fibers allow the toxins to bioaccumulate in the body much faster, reaching ever higher amounts as you move up the food chain. As noted in the featured video, these chemicals have been shown to cause liver damage, liver tumors and signs of endocrine disruption in fish and other seafood, including lowered fertility and immune function.

Seafood Is a Significant Source of Plastic in Human Food Chain

With all this plastic posing as food in the food chain, it’s no wonder researchers are finding it in our dinners as well. Last year, citing a report25 by the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA], the Daily Mail wrote:26

“Microplastics have been found in a wide variety of species including zooplankton, mussels, oysters, shrimp, marine worms, fish, seals and whales. Chemicals on microplastics ingested by an organism can dissociate from plastic particles and enter body tissues … [DEFRA] said there is evidence from animal studies that small plastic particles can cross membranes into cells, causing damage and inflammation.

Looking at the implications for humans, [DEFRA] said: ‘Several studies show that microplastics are present in seafood sold for human consumption, including mussels in North Sea mussel farms and oysters from the Atlantic. ‘The presence of marine microplastics in seafood could pose a threat to food safety.'”

According to the DEFRA report, eating six oysters could introduce about 50 plastic microbeads into your body. One-third of the fish caught in the English Channel also contain microbeads, as do 83 percent of scampi sold in the U.K.27

How You Can Be Part of the Solution

Our “disposable culture” has left a trail of destruction, in terms of both environmental and human impact. Now, how can you contribute to the solution? In short, by becoming a more conscious consumer. Really give some thought to the manufacturing of the products you buy, how they may affect you during use, and what will happen to them once you dispose of them. Few of us are capable of living a zero-waste lifestyle at this point in time, but every single one of us can take small but definitive steps toward the goal of reducing plastic trash in all of its forms. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Reduce your use of all things plastic: Purchase products that are not made from or packaged in plastic. While the items involved are near-endless, here are a few ideas:

Use reusable shopping bags for groceries

Bring your own mug when indulging in a coffee drink, and skip the lid and the straw

Bring drinking water from home in glass water bottles, instead of buying bottled water

Store foods in glass containers or mason jars as opposed to plastic containers or bags

Take your own leftover container to restaurants

Request no plastic wrap on dry cleaning

Avoid personal care items containing microbeads. Many products containing microbeads will advertise them on the label, although they may also be listed as “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” in the ingredients list

Avoid microfiber clothing such as fleece, and/or wash them as infrequently as possible

Recycle what you can: Take care to recycle and repurpose products whenever possible, and/or participate in “plastic drives” for local schools, where cash is paid by the pound

Support legislation: Support legislative efforts to manage waste in your community; take a leadership role with your company, school and neighborhood

Get creative: If you have a great idea, share it! People’s capacity to come up with smarter designs and creative recycling and repurposing ideas are limitless, and creative innovations move us toward a more sustainable world

Oil Companies Fight to Keep Their Poison in Toys

phthalates in your children's toys

Story at-a-glance

  • Simple plastic toys that have become a staple in your child’s everyday experience may be dangerous to their health
  • The largest publicly held gas and oil company is fighting to keep phthalates in your children’s toys and everyday household products, claiming they are safe
  • Phthalates are proven endocrine disruptors, linked to cancers, asthma, neurodevelopmental issues, lower IQ, behavior issues and more

You likely give careful consideration to your child’s nutrition, safety and schooling. But, did you know the simple plastic toys they play with each day may pose a danger to their health and wellness?

Unfortunately, the chemicals found in your child’s toys may also inhabit your floors, kitchen storage, shower curtains and laundry detergents.1 Some chemicals are so dangerous they have been banned from use in consumer products, and others just from use in children’s products.

Chemicals that have been banned in children’s toys may be used in flooring where your child crawls, and may be absorbed through their hands and ingested or inhaled via dust.

One of the world’s largest chemical companies is now fighting to continue use of phthalates — chemicals with known endocrine disrupting effects. Children, whose neurological and endocrine systems are still developing, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of phthalates.

ExxonMobil Fighting to Prove Safety of Phthalates

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly held gas and oil company. Its CEO, Rex Tillerson, has spent years prioritizing corporate interests over those of consumers and the environment.

Tillerson joined the company in 1975. A recent report demonstrates the petroleum company understood the link between fossil fuel use and warming climate as early as 1977.2

In the following years, the company attempted to refute the idea, protecting their interest in the oil industry.3 Only recently did they publicly acknowledge the link and appear to be in support of finding a solution.

However, while ExxonMobil has a significant financial stake in the production of fossil fuel to generate energy for cars and manufacturing, they also produce other products.

More than 25 percent of their $16 billion net profit in 2015 resulted from the sales of other petroleum-based products, including plastics, batteries, synthetic fibers, household detergents and tires.4 One of the chemicals produced by ExxonMobil is the family of phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic pliable.

Is Exxon Pressuring Consumer Products Safety Commission to Green-Light Dangerous Phthalates?

Since the health risks from exposure to phthalates are significant, Congress limited or banned the use of several phthalates in 2008. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) was also directed to investigate whether more should be removed from children’s products.

In their final report in 2014, the CPSC recommended banning eight phthalates from children’s toys. However, despite the mandated timeframe of 180 days in 2014, the CPSC has yet to finalize their ban.

Instead, ExxonMobil continues to insist the product produces no harm and has been working hard to reverse the committee decision. According to Eve Gartner, an Earthjustice attorney:5

“Exxon has been sending letters, having meetings, they’re just constantly in CPSC’s face in a way designed to suggest that, if you go the wrong way on this, we’re going to sue you.”

Sources of Phthalate Exposure

Phthalates are also called plasticizers as they are added to plastics to make them more pliable. There are approximately a dozen different types of phthalates, most having a different method of entering your body and different health effects.6

Most of the phthalates are grouped into low or high molecular weight, depending upon their atomic weight (the weight of atoms in a molecule).

Although most phthalates have a half-life of 24 to 48 hours, recent studies have detected a toxic load of phthalates in urine, blood and breast milk. Higher levels are evident in people who eat from fast food restaurants as the food is packaged in plastic and/or non-stick wrappers.7

You may be exposed to phthalates through the air you breathe, food and water, cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. Vinyl products and other plastic materials also leak phthalates into your environment and increase your exposure.8

Children are exposed through teething toys, plastic toys, breathing household dust or through the use of medical devices.

Although the chemicals break down and are excreted within 96 hours, your constant exposure to products made with phthalates virtually guarantees the chemicals remain in your body. Since the chemicals are lipid soluble, they’re stored in your fat cells and, when released, contribute to the level of phthalates found in your urine.9

Phthalates that fall into the low molecular weight category may be absorbed through your skin. These types of phthalates are commonly found in personal care products. Unfortunately, these chemicals also make it easier for your body to absorb other chemicals.10

A 2015 study demonstrated the phthalates found in the air could also be absorbed through the skin.11

Phthalates are one of the most pervasive of all known endocrine disruptors. According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 470 million pounds of phthalates are produced every year.12

Since phthalates are so prevalent in personal care products, women tend to have higher levels in their system than men.

Endocrine Disruptors Affect Your Whole Body

Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they are chemicals that interfere with the function of your body’s endocrine system. As a whole, your endocrine system is instrumental in regulating your growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, tissue function and mood.

From animal studies, scientists have discovered many of the mechanisms used by chemicals that disrupt your endocrine system and how they alter your hormone functions. Many of these discoveries have been made in the past two decades.13

As a general rule, these chemicals mimic natural hormones, thereby tricking your body into an exaggerated response. For instance, chemicals that mimic estrogen may trigger growth of breast cancer cells that depend on estrogen.

They may also block hormones from reaching receptors, reducing the response to a stimulus, such as blocking growth hormone needed for normal development.14

In other cases, chemical endocrine disruptors may directly inhibit or stimulate your hormonal system and cause an under or overproduction, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid. Chemicals may also block the way your natural hormones or receptors are made or controlled, such as altering liver metabolism.15

In animals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found to affect reproduction.16 Although some disappear from nature quickly, others endure. Aquatic animals, and especially carnivores, have been significantly affected by chemical pollution, as they are at the top of the food chain where higher levels of chemicals build up over time.

Other changes in wildlife populations that have been traced back to endocrine-disrupting chemicals include:17

Baltic seal population reduction Eggshell thinning in birds of prey Alligator population decrease in a polluted lake
Frog population decrease Male sex organs on female marine animals such as whelks and snails Negative effects on fish reproduction and development

Phthalates Linked to Male Reproductive Problems

In a study led by environmental health scientist Richard Pilsner, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts, researchers determined that a father’s preconception exposure to phthalates led to a pronounced decrease in blastocyst quality.18 Once fertilization of the egg is achieved, the zygote begins to divide or cleave.19 This happens repeatedly in the first three to five days. At this point the embryo becomes a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. It is at this stage in vitro fertilization is attempted.

The study evaluated immature eggs from 50 couples undergoing in vitro fertilization. There were 761 oocytes, or immature eggs, in the study, of which only 184 developed well enough to be transferred to the prospective mother. The researchers found an inverse association between men who had high levels of phthalates in their urine and the development of high-quality blastocysts.20

In other studies, researchers have linked female exposure to phthalates with altered genital formation in baby boys.21,22 More specifically, boys born with a shorter anogenital distance and a smaller penis. The former is a marker for endocrine disruption and potentially infertility.

Longer anogenital distances are associated with improved ability to father a child and may predict reproductive potential.23 Shanna Swan, Ph.D., of The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at Mount Sinai, lead author of a study showing that mothers who had higher levels of phthalates in their system had an increased risk of giving birth to boys with reduced anogenital distance, said:24

“Our findings show that even at low levels, environmental exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals can adversely affect male genital development, which in turn may impact male reproductive health later in life. Because most pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, our findings not only have a profound effect on public health, but on the public policies meant to protect women as well as the general population.”

Health Conditions Triggered by Phthalates

Researchers often focus on high levels of exposure to toxins and the endpoint health effects that may develop. However, lower levels of exposure may still result in health effects that can negatively impact the way in which your body functions. Low-dose exposure prenatally, during childhood and even into adulthood may result in long-term health conditions.

For instance, several studies in the last decade have linked inhaled exposure to phthalates with asthma and respiratory allergic reactions. This type of reaction has been linked with the high molecular weight phthalates, such as DEHP and BBP.25,26

A study from Columbia University was the first to demonstrate an association between childhood asthma and prenatal exposure to phthalates. Children born to mothers exposed to higher levels of butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) during pregnancy had a greater than 70 percent increased risk of developing asthma between age 5 and 11.27

Studies have also linked phthalate exposure during early childhood with delayed puberty in girls.28 Previous studies have linked phthalate exposure to thyroid dysfunction and an imbalance of growth hormones.

A recent study in Environmental Research evaluated both adults and children and found exposure to phthalates negatively influenced the production of thyroid hormones and balance of growth hormone.29 In the past few years, scientists have also linked phthalate exposure to:30,31,32,33

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) Breast cancer Obesity
Type 2 diabetes Lowered IQ Autism spectrum disorder
Neurodevelopmental issues Behavioral issues Reduced male fertility
Asthma Altered thyroid function Imbalanced growth hormone
Liver cancer Miscarriage Suspected carcinogen

Reduce Your Exposure to Phthalates

Anything you can do to reduce your and your child’s exposure to toxic chemicals is a move in the right direction. Although it’s virtually impossible to steer clear of ALL potentially hazardous chemicals, you can certainly minimize your exposure by keeping some key principles in mind.

Avoid plastic food containers and plastic wrap. Store food and drinks in glass containers instead.
Avoid plastic children’s toys. Use toys made of natural substances, such as wood and organic materials.
Read labels on your cosmetics and avoid those containing phthalates.
Avoid products labeled with “fragrance” as this catch-all term may include hidden phthalates which are commonly used to stabilize the scent and extend the life of the product. Avoid air fresheners.
Use personal care products stored in glass containers.
Read labels looking for PVC-free products, including children’s lunch boxes, backpacks and storage containers.
Do not microwave plastic containers or plastic wrap.
Dust rooms with vinyl blinds, wallpaper, flooring and furniture that may contain phthalates as the chemical collects in dust on the floor and is easily ingested by children.
Ask your pharmacist if your prescription pills are coated to control when they dissolve as the coating may contain phthalates.
Eat mostly fresh, raw whole foods. Packaging is often a source of phthalates.
Buy products in glass bottles instead of plastic or cans and use glass baby bottles instead of plastic. Breastfeed exclusively for the first year if you can to avoid plastic nipples and bottles all together.
Remove your fruit and vegetables from plastic bags immediately after coming home from the grocery store and wash them before storage.
Cash register receipts are heat printed and often contain BPA. Handle the receipt as little as possible and ask the store to switch to BPA-free receipts.
Use natural cleaning products or make your own.
Replace feminine hygiene products with safer alternatives.
Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets; make your own to reduce static cling.
Check your home’s tap water for contaminants and filter the water if necessary.
Teach your children not to drink from the garden hose, as many are made from plasticizers such as phthalates.

Would You Like Some Food With Your Plasticizers?

Story at-a-glance

  • Phthalates are pervasive chemicals, found in everything from your cosmetics and shower curtain, to your food and household cleaners
  • Researchers now demonstrate an increased potential for ingestion of phthalates when you eat at fast food restaurants, including pizza and sandwich shops
  • Phthalates are linked to low vitamin D levels, potentially affecting many health conditions including depression, migraines and declining cognitive function in the elderly

Phthalates are widely used chemicals that make plastics more flexible. Products such as your shower curtain, food packaging, vinyl gloves and vinyl flooring contain phthalates. These chemicals are also in your household cleaners, cosmetics and personal care products.

Although phthalates help plastics to be more durable and flexible, they are not strongly bound to the product, so with heat and use, they leach out and dissipate into your environment.

Have you noticed how your flexible plastics can get harder and more brittle over time? That’s because the plasticizer, or phthalates, is continuously released, changing the chemical composition of the product.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that your risk of exposure comes from eating and drinking foods exposed to plastics and breathing phthalate in dust particles.

In fact, phthalates are so common that researchers have found metabolites of phthalates in the general population and consider exposure to people living in the U.S. widespread.1

At the urging of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), American manufacturers have not put phthalates in children’s pacifiers, soft rattles and teething toys since 1999.2

Phthalates are “reasonably considered to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), but continue to be used in many products you use every day.3

You May Ingest Phthalates With Your Meals

In an effort to evaluate your risk of exposure to phthalates from food, researchers evaluated the dietary habits and urinary metabolites of 9,000 participants age 6 and older.4 This news video highlights the results of the study. The researchers were specifically looking at fast food or take out foods.

They used the CDC definition for fast foods as those from restaurants without waiter services and pizza restaurants, including take-out.

They discovered that the majority of people who were more likely to eat fast foods were non-Hispanic black males under age 40.5 This population also ate more calories and more fat each day from fast food restaurants.6

Those who ate at fast food restaurants had a greater excretion of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) than those who did not consume fast foods. The authors pointed to PVC tubing, vinyl gloves and food packaging as potential sources of phthalates found in foods.

Although DEHP has been removed from some products related to health concerns, it is being replaced with another source of phthalates, DiNP.7

The study evaluated exposure and not the potential negative health effects. They found a dose-related relationship between the amount of fast food participants were eating and the amount of phthalates to which they were exposed.

Those who ate the most fast food had 23 percent higher DEHP and 39 percent higher DiNP levels.8 They did not find evidence of increased bisphenol A (BPA).

When the researchers evaluated the type of phthalates absorbed with the type of food ingested they found those who ate more grains and foods in the “other” category, such as condiments, potatoes and vegetables from fast food restaurants, had a greater amount of DEHP in their system.

Those who had more DiNP metabolites were eating a greater amount of meat and grains.9

Phthalates Are Industrial Strength Hormone Disruptors

The dangers associated with phthalates are related to their effect on your hormonal system. They are remarkably powerful hormone disruptors, and recent research confirms they’re capable of causing males in all species to develop feminine characteristics.10

Although this study evaluated damage to the reproductive health of wildlife, the results are relevant to humans, as we share similar sex hormone receptors.

The chemicals disrupted the endocrine systems causing testicular cancer, low sperm counts, genital malformations and infertility in a number of species, including deer, whales, otters and bears, to name a few. This infertility and feminization may indicate a similar pattern taking place in humans.

In a study published by the American Chemical Society (ACS), researchers found that pregnant women who were exposed to phthalates found in food packaging, personal care items and other everyday products, experienced an increased risk of miscarriage between 5 and 13 weeks of pregnancy.11

Further studies demonstrate exposure to phthalates during pregnancy may increase the risk of adversely affecting the masculinization of male genitals in your baby.12 The results were presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society.

Researchers suggest the results may be a reason to look closely at clinical testing in early pregnancy for levels of chemicals to help guide interventions to protect your baby. Jennifer Adibi, Sc.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh School of Public Health was quoted in the press release saying:13

“Phthalates are pervasive. Reducing exposure to phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals is something that needs to be addressed at a societal level through consumer advocacy and regulation, and education of health care providers.”

Phthalates Have Other Negative Health Effects

A research team from Columbia University found pregnant women with high levels of phthalates delivered babies who had a higher risk of developing asthma between the ages of 5 and 11.14

Since every woman in the U.S. is exposed to phthalates, researchers were forced to compare women with the highest levels of phthalates to those with the lowest, as they did not find anyone with a zero level.

Every woman in the study had metabolites of both types of phthalates being tested. Despite that, children of women with the highest levels had between a 72 and 78 percent greater chance of developing asthma.15

During pregnancy an increased exposure to phthalates may alter the production of thyroid hormones in your unborn child,16 which are crucial for the proper development of your baby during your first trimester.

Other complications found in women with high levels of DEHP during pregnancy included twice the likelihood a male child would develop a hydrocele, a buildup of fluid in the scrotum that increases the size of the scrotum and causes discomfort.17

Phthalates Linked to Low Vitamin D Levels

Phthalates also have negative health effects on adults. One of the first studies to link low vitamin D levels to an increased intake of phthalates was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.18 Researchers are calling this study very important as vitamin D is essential for brain, bone and heart heath.

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a number of different health conditions, including depression,19,20 mental decline in older adults21 and chronic migraine headaches,22 to name just a few. This study followed over 4,600 participants between 2005 and 2010 in a national health survey. The researchers had data from urine and blood samples, which they compared against exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) and vitamin D levels.

Lead author Lauren Johns, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, believes the results of this study have widespread implications, as EDCs in the U.S. are pervasive. The authors are not sure how the chemicals affect vitamin D deficiency, but believe they may alter vitamin D levels in the same way they change thyroid and reproductive hormones.

Widespread use of phthalate chemicals makes it difficult to reduce your exposure. Recent studies have demonstrated that while exposure to DEHP and di-n-butylphthalate (DnBP) are declining with reduced use in children’s toys and other plastic materials, exposure to replacement phthalates is increasing.23 Chemicals replacing DEHP and DnBP are associated with very similar health effects.

US Food and Drug Administration Called to Reconsider Approval of Phthalates in Food Products

In early 2016, several public health and consumer groups strongly urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to withdraw their approval of ortho-phthalates used in food handling and packaging.24 The petition filed with the government lists these chemicals as food additives, as the FDA considers any chemicals that may be reasonably expected to be found in your food an additive.

Food producers use these chemicals in paperboard, cellophane and plastics that come in contact with the food. Earth Justice was one of the organizations behind the citizen petition to the FDA. Following a plea to their followers, the FDA received nearly 200,000 letters urging them to withdraw the chemicals, citing concern for their health and the health of their children.25

Despite the overwhelming demonstration of toxic effects phthalates have on adults, children and developing babies, the use of these EDCs in plastics and products that come in contact with food is perfectly legal. The FDA was accepting letters of concern from the public until September 19, 2016.26

If the FDA decides to withdraw approval for these 30 different ortho-phthalates from products used in food packaging and handling, manufacturers will be forced to redesign their products and machinery. This effects more than the fast food industry as phthalates can be found in dairy products and cheeses you purchase from the grocery store, as well as meats and olive oil.27,28

What You Can Do to Avoid Toxic Chemicals

To limit your exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), keep the following guidelines in mind when shopping for food, personal care and household products.

Avoid fast-food restaurant fare and processed goods. Eating a diet focused on locally grown, ideally organic and whole foods cooked from scratch will significantly limit your exposure to not only phthalates and BPA but also a wide array of other chemicals, including synthetic food additives and pesticides. Use natural cleaning products or make your own. Besides phthalates, avoid those containing 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME) — two toxic glycol ethers that can compromise your fertility and cause fetal harm.
Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans; be aware that even “BPA-free” plasticstypically leach other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are just as bad for you as BPA. Switch to organic toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.

EWG’s Skin Deep database29 can help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.

Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap as it too contains phthalates that can migrate into your food (especially if you microwave food wrapped in plastic). Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one or glass doors.
Use glass baby bottles and drinking bottles. Replace feminine hygiene products (tampons and sanitary pads) with safer alternatives.
Filter your tap water for both drinking and bathing. If you can only afford to do one, filtering your bathing water may be more important, as your skin absorbs contaminants.

Under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for DEHP of 0.006 mg/dL, or 6 ppb.30

Note that the Safe Drinking Water Act regulates DEHP levels only for public water supplies, not for well water.

Look for fragrance-free products. One artificial fragrancecan contain hundreds — even thousands — of potentially toxic chemicals, including phthalates.

Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which contain a mishmash of synthetic chemicals and fragrances.

If you have PVC pipes, you may have DEHP leaching into your water supply. If you have PVC pipe from before 1977, you will definitely want to upgrade to a newer material.

This “early-era” PVC pipe can leach a carcinogenic compound called vinyl chloride monomer into your water. Alternatives to PVC for water piping include ductile iron, high-density polyethylene, concrete, copper and PEX.31

Consider replacing vinyl flooring with a “greener” material. Also avoid soft, flexible plastic flooring, such as those padded play-mat floors for kids (often used in day cares and kindergartens), as there’s a good chance it is made from phthalate-containing PVC.
Read the labels and avoid anything containing phthalates. Besides DEHP, also look for DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), BzBP (benzyl butyl phthlate) and DMP (dimethyl phthalate).

Also be wary of anything listing a “fragrance,” which often includes phthalates.

Make sure your baby’s toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings and anything your child may be prone to suck or chew on — even books, which are often plasticized. It’s advisable to avoid all plastic, especially flexible varieties.

The Problem With Phthalates: Fast Food May Expose You To Harmful Industrial Chemicals

Despite the fact that phthalates in children’s toys and products have been banned by the United States government since 2008, and many other manufacturers have removed them from their products, it’s possible we haven’t escaped exposure to these harmful chemicals just yet — another source is our favorite greasy fast foods. In a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that people who reported eating more fast food ended up being exposed to higher levels of phthalates, which could mean they’re at a higher risk of developing phthalate-related health issues like diabetes or genital birth defects.

fast food

We’ve heard about the culprits before: Environmental health toxins like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), at certain levels, have been dubbed dangerous, and linked to a myriad of health issues and diseases. BPA is a component often found in metal can coatings or plastic bottles, and sometimes seeps into the food it surrounds. Research has investigated the potential effects of BPA consumption and linked it to premature birth, poor reproductive health, diabetes, and obesity. The amount of these chemicals allowed in food packaging is regulated by the FDA, and for now, it states that current levels of BPA in foods are “safe.” In other words, in order to be at risk of these disorders, you might have to consume a much larger amount of BPA.

Phthalates, meanwhile, are a type of industrial chemical used to soften plastics — they’re used in food packaging, dairy product tubing, and other consumer products. High levels of phthalates have been linked to preterm births, lowered testosterone, and an impaired sex drive.

The FDA has only banned certain types of phthalates, however, and other types still exist in many consumer products and foods without much regulation. It turns out that fast food, in particular, contains a lot of phthalates that leak from the packaging, the researchers of the latest study note. “People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher,” said co-author Ami Zota, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, in a press release. “Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.”

For the study, researchers examined 8,877 participants who gave detailed reports about their diet within the past 24 hours. The researchers also took a urine sample, which allowed them to measure levels of DEHP and DiNP — two types of phthalates that haven’t been banned by the FDA. The more fast food a person ate, the higher their level of phthalates, the researchers found. Those who ate the most fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of DEHP breakdown products in their urine than those who didn’t eat fast food. That same group of people also had 40 percent higher levels of DiNHP breakdown products in their urine compared to those who didn’t eat fast food. Grain and meat, in particular, were considered the biggest sources of phthalates.

In addition to testing for DEHP and DiNP, the researchers fished for BPA levels. They found no association between fast food intake and BPA in general, but noticed a link between consumption of more fast food meat products and a higher level of BPA.

But to what extent are these levels truly dangerous? It’s tough to tell without conducting more research, Zota told Medical Daily. Since the FDA doesn’t have any specific guidelines on phthalates in food, she said it’s hard to say whether eating at Burger King will increase your risk of reproductive problems. But there is an implication there, especially since this study hints that the more processed your food is, the higher its phthalate content will be.

“Studies have definitely looked at and measured items in grocery stores, and they do find detectable levels [of phthalates],” Zota told Medical Daily. “Because often those items have gone through processing before it gets to your grocery store. I think our study points to the fact that the more processing and packaging that food comes in contact with,” the more likely it will will contain phthalates.

Regardless, until more research is done, you can lower your exposure to phthalates and other fast food-related chemicals by increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s impossible to completely eliminate phthalate exposure because they’re so “ubiquitous,” Zota said. But “people concerned about this issue can’t go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food,” she said in the press release. “A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates.”

Ultimately, in addition to providing some sense of guidance to people who want to choose healthier diets and steer clear of chemicals in their food, Zota hopes the study will work to raise awareness about the larger issue of reducing harmful chemicals in food supplies. “It’s an important problem, but definitely difficult to solve and will involve a lot of different stakeholders,” she said. “Because a lot of scientific and clinical professional organizations are increasingly voicing their concern about the toxic health effects of phthalates, there is a need to help individuals reduce their exposure. This study plays a role there, and hopefully it will raise awareness for greater action at the societal or policy level.”