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Newer Plastic Chemicals May Not Be Safer Than the Older Ones

Jul 17, 2015

Link between phthalates found in plastic and insulin resistance, hypertension…

Two chemicals commonly found in plastic wrap, soap, cosmetics, and food packaging are associated with a rise in blood pressure and insulin resistance in children and adolescents, according to a series of studies performed at NYU Langone Medical Center. The two compounds, di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodeccyl phthalate (DIDP), have been used with increasing frequency since US manufacturers began phasing out use another chemical, di-2-ethyl-hexylphlatate (DEHP) ten years ago over concerns of its safety.

Lead investigator Leonardo Trasande’s research in 2013 confirmed the link between DEHP exposure and hypertension. His new research indicates that the replacement phthalates are just as detrimental to human health. While studying 356 subjects between the ages of 12 and 19, Trasande’s team found that one out of three adolescents with the highest DINP concentrations had the highest levels of insulin resistance, while one out of four with the lowest concentrations of DINP showed signs of insulin resistance. They found a similar link with DINP and DIDP concentrations and elevated blood pressure, namely that every ten-fold increase in phthalate consumption was associated with a 1.1 mmHg rise in blood pressure.

“Our research adds to growing concern that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders,” Trasande said.

Trasande recommends several measures that can reduce exposure to phthalates, such as using wax paper or aluminum foil to wrap foods, avoiding microwaving food in plastic containers or covered with plastic wrap as this can cause more chemicals to leach into the food, not placing plastic containers in the dishwasher, and avoiding plastic containers with the recycling numbers 3, 6, or 7 which are more likely to contain these chemicals. Consuming more fresh, unprocessed foods will also reduce exposure.

“Indeed, a dietary intervention that introduced fresh foods that were not canned or packaged in plastic reduced phthalate metabolites substantially,” according to Trasande.

Americans are exposed to thousands of chemicals through food, cosmetics, and the environment each day. The effects of many of these chemicals in the human body are largely unknown. “Our study adds further concern for the need to test chemicals for toxicity prior to their broad and widespread use, which is not required under current federal law (the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act),” Trasande said. His team plans to continue their research by studying long-term exposure to DINP and DIDP, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood.

Practice Pearls:

  • Phthalate exposure can increase risk of hypertension and diabetes.
  • Phthalate exposure can be reduced by eating more whole, unprocessed, and minimally packaged foods.
  • Avoid microwaving or dishwashing plastic containers to further decrease exposure.

NYU Langone Medical Center News

Leonardo Trasande. Association of Exposure to Di-2-Ethylhexylphthalate Replacements With Increased Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents. Hypertension. 2015; 66: 301-308 doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.115.05603