Fast Food Increases Exposure to Phthalates

Phthalates are a type of additive found in many plastics used to make them more flexible and more difficult to break. These chemicals are often referred to as plasticizers. Some phthalates are used as solvents for other materials, while others are used in common products like adhesives, vinyl flooring, detergents, and waterproof clothing like raincoats. Phthalates are also often found in personal care items like soaps and shampoos as well as cosmetics, and are frequently found in storage containers meant for both dry and liquid applications, food production equipment, and many children’s toys.

Phthalates can lurk in many foods

This plastic additive is incredibly difficult to avoid, as it isn’t something that’s listed on product labels. While some companies have noted that their products or packaging are phthalate free, this fat-soluble type of chemical can lurk in many foods, especially those from convenience-based sources and fast food chains. While these fast food and take-away options can be fast and easy options for meals, a recent study has shown that there are more dangers to these quick meals than just the usual nutritional complaints. Instead, fast food is being shown as a massive source of phthalate contamination.

Researchers from George Washington University analyzed data on 8,877 individuals who were part of the NHANES study from 2003 to 2010. The provided details of their food intake over a 24 hour period, and had their urine collected the next day. Their urine samples were then analyzed for two specific phthalate compounds, DEHP and DiNP. These two compounds were chosen due to their widespread use in food processing.

Phthalate levels 40 percent higher

Researcher Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH stated that, "People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher. Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.” Results from the urinalysis indeed showed that participants who ate more fast food had greater exposure to phthalates. People with the highest consumption had 23.8 percent higher levels of DEHP breakdown products, and nearly 40 percent more DiNP metabolites, compared to those who did not report eating fast food at all in the testing period. The findings also showed that grain and meat products contributed the greatest amount of these chemicals.

The problem with phthalate exposure is that it can disrupt hormone signaling in both genders in several different ways. These epigenetic changes observed in laboratory animals aren’t limited to the individual; instead, these shifts are passed on to further generations, impacting following generations. This makes sense, given that these plastic compounds interact with the hormonal balance, and reproductive organs. One of the major ways phthalates impacts reproductive capacity is in the development of testicular disease in offspring, including impaired sperm health. Female offspring were also impacted, as obesity risk was dose dependent, for plastic exposure. Future generations showed earlier onset of puberty, and a greater development of tumors and other health complications.

Anything coming in contact with plastic

It’s alarming to see that sources of phthalates can include local and organic produce as well as organic spices, which means that virtually anything that has come into contact with plastic can have significant levels of phthalates. This class of chemicals does not include Bisphenol-A (BPA) though they can have similar endocrine disrupting effects. The CDC reports that human health effects from phthalate exposure are as yet unknown, though studies such as this one may begin to change this status.

Some clients may already be trying to remove plastics from their lives, noting more recent attention by studies and by the media. This can be a challenging endeavor, and some may not yet have all the information they need to motivate them to take further action to minimize the risk of exposure. Choosing to not eat at fast food establishments is a clear step they can take.

Any clients showing symptoms of endocrine disruption could benefit greatly from removing phthalate-containing items from their daily life. You could offer clients support in creating better food storage options, such as glass, stainless steel, and bamboo. They may also need assistance on learning how to shop for products that have less chance of contamination. While some industrial exposure can’t be avoided, learning about the production techniques of their favorite companies can help, as well as pressuring those companies to avoid phthalates in their equipment and their products.

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