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Phthalates known to disrupt hormones linked to Type 2 diabetes in seniors

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Phthalates linked to double the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Researchers studied people over at 70 to find higher levels of phthalates in the blood stream was associated with double the chance of type 2 diabetes.

Phthalates are found in plastics, cosmetics and scented candles and have been shown to disrupt hormones in the body. Though no one knows for certain that the compounds are harmful to health, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting the chemicals can affect reproductive health of children and may contribute to other diseases.

The new study looked at 1,000 70-year-old women and men from Uppsala, Sweden. Researchers analyzed blood levels of phthalates and other substances that result when the chemical is broken down in the body.

Diabetes more likely when phthalate levels higher

What they found was twice the chances of type 2 diabetes among participants who had higher levels of phthalates. As expected, people who were overweight or obese and with high cholesterol levels were most likely to have diabetes.

In the meantime, critics, such as the American Chemistry Council, continue to insist there isn’t enough evidence to say phthalates are a risk to human health.

Studies have linked the chemical to childhood obesity, ADHD, pre-term birth and asthma.

In March, the FDA refused to ban the chemical, despite a statement issued last year by an expert panel from Endocrine Society that “synthetic chemicals used as industrial solvents/lubricants and their byproducts [polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), dioxins], plastics [bisphenol A(BPA)], plasticizers (phthalates), pesticides [methoxychlor, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)], fungicides (vinclozolin), and pharmaceutical agents [diethylstilbestrol (DES)”, are known to interfere with natural hormones.”

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“Although our results need to be confirmed in more studies, they do support the hypothesis that certain environmental chemicals can contribute to the development of diabetes," says Monica Lind, associate professor of environmental medicine at the Section for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Uppsala University in a press release.

Phthalates are used as softening agents in plastics and personal care products. They are pervasive and difficult for consumers to avoid.

A 2011 study from researchers from Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) found many supplement and over-the-counter drugs contain the chemical. Consumers are regularly exposed to hormone disrupting compounds that include BPA, PCBs, PBBs and dioxins, pesticides (methoxychlor, DDT), fungicides.

The concern is that phthalates and other hormone disrupting compounds could cause epigenetic changes that can affect the health of future generations from infertility, cancers and birth defects.

There are many unknowns about how environmental chemicals impact human health. Until studies prove beyond a doubt that they’re harmful, consumers will be continued to be exposed. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been fighting to get BPA banned. According to the group, the chemicals are present in toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo."

Legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have restricted phthalate use in children's products and several companies are trying to phase out the plasticizer.

If you choose to be proactive, cut down on plastics in the home. Choose personal care products that are perfume-free and let your local legislators know how you feel about getting even potential toxins out of consumer products. The new study doesn’t prove, but suggests, phthalates might double the risk of type 2 diabetes among seniors.

Diabetes Care
"Circulating Levels of Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated With Prevalent Diabetes in the Elderly"
P. Monica Lind, PHD, et al.
doi: 10.2337/dc11-2396
April 12, 2012

Updated 8/15/2014