Today we rely on plastics for such a wide variety of uses that it’s difficult to imagine life without them. However, although there has been no convincing evidence linking plastics to disease, questions still linger about their safety.
One of the components of plastics that has most interested health researchers are phthalates. Known as “plasticizers,” they increase the flexibility and durability of plastics. They are especially useful in the making of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is used in the manufacture of pipes and vinyl flooring and siding. Their danger to health has not been proven, but some manufacturers who have used them are now phasing them out over concerns that they might contribute to such problems as developmental problems in children and cancer.
Recently, researchers in Australia published a study that was the first to explore the relationship between phthalates and disease in middle-aged and older men. They collected data from 1,500 men and detected phthalates in the urine samples of a whopping 99.6 percent of the men who were 35 and older. The researchers then compared the levels of phthalates in the samples with the prevalence of chronic diseases in their subjects. They found that the men who had higher levels of phthalates had higher rates of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes. Finally, they adjusted the results to allow for differences in lifestyle, socioeconomic factors, and overweight and obesity. They found the results to still be significant.
Zumin Shi, PhD, the senior author of the study, said, “We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels. While we still don’t understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function.” Although the study was done on men, Professor Shi added that a similar study done on women would most likely result in similar findings.
Want to learn more about plastics and diabetes? Read “Diabetes From Plastic?” “Study Strengthens Link Between Common Chemical and Type 2,” and “Type 2 and Environmental Chemicals Linked,” “Toxic Chemicals and Diabetes.”
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Joseph Gustaitis: Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area. (Joseph Gustaitis is not a medical professional.)
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