Eating Out Increases Levels of Harmful Phthalate Chemicals in Body

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . .

People who like to dine out may unwittingly order a side of potentially harmful chemicals, new research suggests.

The study, involving more than 10,000 Americans, found that those who’d dined out the day before generally had higher urine levels of chemicals called phthalates, versus people who’d had all their meals at home.

The findings suggest that old-fashioned home-cooked meals could be one way for people to reduce their intake of phthalates — which have been linked to certain health risks.

Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more flexible and difficult to break. Lab studies have shown the chemicals to be “endocrine disruptors” — which means they can interfere with how hormones work in the body.

In humans, studies have found correlations between phthalate exposure and reproductive issues — including preterm birth and fertility problems, said lead researcher Ami Zota. She is an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C

Still, other studies have found links to health problems like asthma, obesity and behavioral issues in kids.

Several phthalates have been banned from children’s toys and certain child-care products, such as teething rings, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

However, phthalates remain in a huge range of products, from electrical cables and medical supplies to detergents and cosmetics.

For most people, diet is the primary route of exposure, said Zota.

That’s because phthalates can get into food during processing, or possibly during transportation, through packaging or even via the gloves used for food handling, Zota explained.

So it’s not surprising, she said, that people who eat out can be exposed to more phthalates. In fact, her team found in an earlier study that fast-food fans generally had higher phthalate levels than people who rarely ate those foods.

The new study, published online March 28 in the journal Environment International, suggests fast food is not the only culprit.

On average, the study found, people who’d dined out — at any type of restaurant or cafeteria — had a phthalate intake that was 35 percent higher than people who’d eaten only home-prepared meals.

When the researchers looked at particular types of food, they found that hamburgers and other meat sandwiches stood out: People who’d eaten those sandwiches the day before tended to have higher phthalate levels — but only if they’d gotten them from a restaurant or cafeteria.

The evidence was weaker when it came to fries and pizza.

According to Zota, that is in line with research suggesting that animal proteins might be a stronger “vehicle” for phthalates. It’s not clear why, but the fat content might be a factor, she said.

Sarah Evans is an instructor in environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, in New York City.

Eating more home-cooked meals could help limit phthalate exposure, Evans said — but people need to be mindful of the foods they choose.

That’s because phthalates can lurk in the processed, packaged foods sold at grocery stores, too.

“The best way to reduce exposure is to eat whole, fresh foods at home as often as possible,” said Evans, who was not involved in the study. “Phthalates have been shown to accumulate in high-fat foods, so limiting consumption of those items may be effective at reducing exposure.”

Zota called that a “win-win” scenario. Diets rich in whole foods are also more nutritious, and lower in sugar and salt, she pointed out.

Evans also suggested using glass or stainless steel containers for food preparation and storage, and avoiding microwaving plastic — since heat may cause phthalates to “seep out.”

However, there is only so much consumers can do to avoid phthalates, both Evans and Zota noted.

“Increased oversight and regulation of food packaging and the food manufacturing process is necessary to protect the population from the harmful effects of phthalate exposure,” Evans said.

Source: HealthDay

Today’s Comic

FDA Agrees to Petitioners’ Request to Reconsider Safety of Ortho-phthalates

In response to a food additive petition, FDA has agreed to consider withdrawing its approval of 30 toxic chemicals known as ortho-phthalates from use in food packaging and food handling equipment, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which petitioned for the withdrawal, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action, Consumer Federation of America, Earthjustice, Improving Kids’ Environment, and Learning Disabilities Association of America – groups all concerned by the adverse health effects of ortho-phthalates at the levels typically seen in food.

EDF stated that the ortho-phthalates are a serious threat to pregnant woman, their developing fetuses and children, but manufacturers continue to use them, although there are alternatives. Ortho-phthalates are a class of chemically and pharmacologically related substances used as plasticizers, binders, coating agents, defoamers, gasket closures, and slimicide agents. They are used in cellophane, paper and paperboard, and plastics that come in contact with food.

Several reports have found numerous ortho-phthalates in everyday food, EDF said. While these chemicals are used in many consumer products other than food, the primary source of exposure appears to be food, presumably from their FDA-approved use in food packaging and handling equipment, EDF said, adding that academic studies have linked some of these chemicals to a variety of reproductive, developmental and endocrine health problems, from lower IQ in young children to malformation of the male genital tract.

“We’ve known these food packaging chemicals are dangerous for a while, but the food processing industry has not acted. They are not protecting the public from these toxins, so now it’s time for FDA to do so,” said Peter Lehner, senior attorney for the Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program at Earthjustice.

FDA rejected two requests in the petition on technical grounds, including the NGO’s request to ban certain ortho-phthalates from children’s toys, pacifiers, teething rings and other products, although Congress banned the use of some of these in 2008 in these products. FDA also declined to review five ortho-phthalates that were approved before 1958. The petitioners plan to use a citizens’ petition to request action on these matters.

FDA has 180 days to determine if there is a “reasonable certainty of no harm” for the 30 ortho-phthalates as a class. If there is not adequate data for a particular chemical in the class, FDA must assume that chemical also has reproductive, developmental and endocrine toxicity based on its precedential decision on long-chain perfluorinated compounds, EDF said.

If FDA agrees with the petition, it will issue a rule that removes its approvals for the ortho-phthalates.

Source: Quality Assurance and Food Safety


What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl. Polyvinyl chloride is made softer and more flexible by the addition of phthalates. Phthalates are used in hundreds of consumer products.

Phthalates are used in cosmetics and personal care products, including perfume, hair spray, soap, shampoo, nail polish, and skin moisturizers. They are used in consumer products such as flexible plastic and vinyl toys, shower curtains, wallpaper, vinyl miniblinds, food packaging, and plastic wrap.

Phthalates are also used in wood finishes, detergents, adhesives, plastic plumbing pipes, lubricants, medical tubing and fluid bags, solvents, insecticides, medical devices, building materials, and vinyl flooring.

Phthalates had been used to make pacifiers, soft rattles, and teethers, but at the request of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. manufacturers have not used phthalates in those products since 1999.

How might I be exposed to phthalates?

You can be exposed to low levels of phthalates through air, water, or food. You can be exposed to phthalates if you use cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products, or other plastic and vinyl products that contain them.

Exposure to low levels of phthalates may come from eating food packaged in plastic that contains phthalates or breathing dust in rooms with vinyl miniblinds, wallpaper, or recently installed flooring that contain phthalates. You could be exposed by drinking water that contains phthalates, though it is not known how common that is. Phthalates are suspected to be endocrine disruptors.

Children can be exposed to phthalates by chewing on soft vinyl toys or other products made with them. Children can be exposed by breathing household dust that contains phthalates or using IV tubing or other medical devices made with phthalates.

People at the highest risk of exposure to phthalates are dialysis patients, hemophiliacs, or people who received blood transfusions from sources that use tubing or containers made with phthalates. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended steps to minimize exposure of patients to medical devices that contain phthalates and recommended use of alternative devices for certain procedures. Others at high risk are painters, printers, and workers exposed to phthalates during the manufacture, formulation, and processing of plastics.

How can phthalates affect my health?

The human health effects of phthalates are not yet fully known but are being studied by several government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in the Thirteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program.

Current levels of seven phthalates studied by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences posed “minimal” concern for causing reproductive effects. However, the National Toxicology Program concluded that high levels of one phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, may adversely affect human reproduction or development.

High levels of exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate through the use of medical tubing and other plastic devices for feeding, medicating, and assisting the breathing of newborn infants may affect the development of the male reproductive system, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Source: The U.S. National Institutes of Health


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