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Phthalates Linked to ADHD Symptoms


Scientists have found a relationship between phthalates, a chemical found in common products such as toys, plastics, cleaning supplies, food packaging, and personal care items, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The higher the concentration of phthalate metabolites in the urine of a person with ADHD, the worse his or her symptoms and/or test scores.

An increasing number of studies are uncovering links between phthalates and serious medical issues, including birth defects, asthma, reproductive problems, behavioral changes, and hormone disruptions. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insists the health hazards of phthalates to humans have not been definitively established, the Environmental Protection Agency has been regulating these chemicals in water and air for several years.

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Because phthalates are ubiquitous in the environment, it can be difficult to avoid them. According to Pollution in People, consumers can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names. For example, DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are found in many personal care products, such as perfumes, shampoos, and hand lotions. DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is used in PVC plastics. BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate ) can be found in car products, flooring, and personal care items. DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics. Consumers can also choose plastics that have a recycling code of 1, 2, or 5, as those with 3 or 7 are more likely to contain phthalates.

A new report published in the November 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry explains that scientists measured the concentration of phthalates in urine samples from school-age children who had ADHD, as well as evaluated symptoms of ADHD as reported by their teachers. The children also underwent computerized tests that measured attention and impulsivity.

The results of the urine tests and ADHD symptom testing showed a significant positive association between phthalate levels and ADHD. This finding is the first time experts have documented a relationship between phthalates and symptoms of ADHD. Although these findings do not prove that phthalates cause ADHD symptoms, they do raise a red flag of concern and serve as a rationale for more definitive research, as well as alert parents about the potential dangers of these chemicals.

Environmental Working Group
Kim et al. Biological Psychiatry 2009; 66(10): 958
Pollution in People