Phthalates Likely Cause Diabetes and Obesity – They’re Everywhere!
Health-e-Solutions comment: Increasing research suggests that phthalates likely cause diabetes and obesity. This article elucidates the connection between phthalates and diabetes and then tells how to protect ourselves from the ubiquitous presence of these toxins.
Phthalates are everywhere, but they’ve evaded much regulation because they aren’t acutely toxic. This study, though, documents a strong connection between these toxic chemicals and diabetes.
A major study shows a very strong connection between phthalate exposure and diabetes in women. This group of chemicals is ubiquitous. You literally cannot eliminate them from your life. Though diabetes is generally thought to be a disease that results from poor lifestyle and poor diet, it may have more to do with environmental chemicals thrust on us than on poor personal choices.
Phthalates—pronounced thal-ates (the first a is short) have been used in products for decades. They are found virtually everywhere. We even breathe them in. They’re a group of chemicals that do provide some benefits, mostly in terms of making plastics malleable. However, they were foisted on us without consideration for their potential to cause harm, and now we’re seeing massive damage to human health, along with pollution of the environment.
Now we have strong, nearly cause-and-effect evidence showing that exposure to phthalates is a cause of diabetes in women. Based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large and ongoing project examining the health of Americans, the study connecting diabetes with phthalates noted that other recent studies have documented how phthalates interfere with glucose metabolism and fat creation.
As the authors commented: Dysregulation of glucose metabolism, possibly through increased insulin resistance, is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
The study compared concentrations of several phthalates MEP, MnBP, MiBP, MBzP, MCPP, andDEHP (and its associated versions MEHP, MEHHP, and MEOHP) with the presence of diabetes in all the NHANES women from 2001-2008 who were aged 20 to 80. They took into consideration several potential confounders, including age, race/ethnicity, highest level of educational attainment, poverty status, fasting time, physical activity, smoking status, total caloric and total fat intake.
Results were split into quartiles according to phthalate metabolites in urine. The first quartile results were treated as normal. The results showed that different kinds of phthalates have different degrees of effect. However, all showed a direct correlation between urine phthalate metabolites and diabetes:
- MEP: Lowest association with diabetes, with nominal increases and, in many instances even a decreased risk of diabetes. (Note, though, that the comparison is not made with women who have no phthalates in their systems, but only with the least amount of phthalates.)
- MnBP: Consistent association with diabetes. The range of results was 1.14 – 2.01 times greater than the first quartile.
- MiBP: Consistent association with diabetes. The range was 1.03 – 1.97 times greater than the first quartile.
- MBzP: Lower levels of diabetes in the second quartile, ranging from 78-85% that found in the first quartile. However, rates of diabetes increased in the third and fourth quartiles, ranging from 1.73 – 1.99 times greater than the first quartile.
- MCPP: Lower levels of diabetes in the second quartile, ranging from 76-85% that of the first quartile. The second and third quartiles, though, document consistently greater rates of diabetes, from 1.47 to 1.68 times more.
- DEHP: Consistently correlated to diabetes levels 1.43 to 1.85 times greater in the upper 3 quartiles.
In general, the more phthalates a woman had in her system, the greater her risk for diabetes.
Note, though, that comparisons were not made with phthalate-free women, but only with the women whose levels were in the lowest quartile. In reality, since phthalates are found in virtually everyone today, the true risk of diabetes from phthalates may be far higher.
The researchers found that women in the fourth quartile (the ones who had the most phthalates in their systems) were about twice as likely to suffer from diabetes. They also found, “Certain phthalate metabolites were positively associated with fasting glucose and insulin resistance,” thus demonstrating an even stronger correlation.
Phthalates: A Cause of Diabetes?
This study has not shown a direct cause-and-effect relationship between phthlates and diabetes because the mechanism was not investigated. It does, though paint a devastating picture of an association. Our regulatory agencies have utterly failed to protect us from what must be assumed a major cause of the modern world’s diabetes scourge unless proven otherwise.
The precautionary principle has not been followed, in spite of awareness that phthalates are known endocrine system disruptors, making them likely causes of disease. As documented by Our Stolen Future, phthalates were given a clean bill of health by intentionally ignoring this obviously important principle:
[T]he precautionary principle ensures that a substance or activity posing a threat to the environment is prevented from adversely affecting the environment, even if there is no conclusive scientific proof linking that particular substance or activity to environmental damage. (Boston College International and Comparative Law Review [8a])
The debate heated up further in the US when an industry PR firm that masquerades as a public health organization, the American Council on Science and Health, put together a panel to review the safety of phthalates. Headed by retired Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the panel ultimately issued a flawed report that concluded phthalates were safe. Their report failed to consider several key recent publications and misrepresented another, citing the latter as stating that no kidney damage was caused when in fact the research did not assess kidney damage. They committed an even more basic error, moreover, by accepting the absence of data as proof of safety. Absence of data proves only ignorance.
Other Toxic Effects of Phthalates
The diabetes connection to phthalates has not been particularly noted before. However, there are other toxic effects that you should know. Studies have shown that they have deleterious effects on both male and female reproductive capability. They’ve been associated with breast cancer. Boy babies born to women exposed to phthalates can have defective genital development. They may be the reason behind earlier maturation of girls. They’re linked to poor semen quality.
With all these negative health effects, one must wonder how they’ve gotten onto the market and stayed there.
The problem is that phthalates are not acutely toxic. Ingesting small amounts will not show immediate harm. However, they collect in the body. Therefore, over time, these chemicals that seem to have low toxic levels add up. Because they’re ubiquitous, we take them into our bodies constantly. Over time they’re taking an enormous toll.
Though it may sound like beating the same drum over and over, the fact is that the precautionary principle was never applied in the roll out of all these toxic chemicals. As a result, we now live in a world contaminated with them, so that we literally breathe them in, and we’ve grown dependent on the conveniences they bring. The question is, just how much health are we willing to give up for that convenience?
Phthalates: Lack of Regulation and Protecting Yourself
Phthalates are highly toxic and they’re virtually everywhere. We literally breathe them in! Our regulatory agencies have been utterly remiss in dealing with phthalates.
It’s 2013, and this is the current status of the EPA’s website on phthalates regulations. It’s all about intentions, but no action seems to have been taken. The EPA’s recent history and conflicts of interest[4,5,6] should not give us much hope for protection from these toxic chemicals. The agency has decided to require approval for new applications of phthalates, which sounds good—but it does nothing about existing phthalate use and it doesn’t actually say anything about how they would regulate. They just say that they will.
Protecting Yourself from Phthalates
To be blunt, it’s virtually impossible to completely avoid phthalates. They are, literally, in the environment everywhere—in the air, water, and even in food. They’re in cosmetics, cleaning products, and the containers that hold them. They’re in soft vinyl toys, vinyl floorings, vinyl mini blinds, wallpaper, wood finishes, shower curtains, and in the air in rooms that contain them. They’re in wood finishes, perfume, hairspray, soap, shampoo, moisturizers, nail polish, food packaging, plastic wrap, lubricants, adhesives, plumbing pipes, insecticides, medical devices, and much more.
We eat phthalates, we drink phthalates, we soak them in through our skin, and we breathe them. They are everywhere. However, you can limit your exposure, but it will mean doing without a lot of modern conveniences. Here are some things you can do:
- Avoid using most baby care products. Many, if not most, modern baby care products contain these toxic agents.
- Avoid plastic containers as much as possible, and particularly avoid storing food in them. Plastic wraps also contain phthalates. Use glass and stainless steel containers instead.
- Avoid products with fragrances added. Most contain phthalates.
- In the US, you can limit—but not eliminate—phthalate exposure from plastics by using only those that carry the numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 in the triangle symbol.
- Do not microwave anything in plastic containers or with plastic film on top! (Better yet, don’t use microwave ovens, as they destroy nutrients.)
- Cans (tins) are nearly always lined with phthalate-laced plastic to avoid that “tinny” taste. Avoid canned foods as much as possible.
- Polymer clays contain phthalates. Do not let your children play with them.
- Food purchased from stores often are wrapped in plastics. You can help limit your exposure to phthlates from these products by scraping a thin layer off the tops of plastic-wrapped foods. (This, of course, is not always practical, but is often effective in meat and cheese.)
- Paint with natural paints, and if you can’t, always make sure the room is well ventilated while painting and drying. Solvents, too, should be used only in well-ventilated areas.
- Air fresheners, even fragrance-free ones, nearly always contain phthalates.
- Read labels! Although phthalates are not always included on labels, you can avoid a lot of them by looking for these ingredients:
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
- DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
- DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
- DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
- DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
- DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)
- BPA (bisphenol A)
Phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastics containing them. As a result, even tiny amounts are dangerous because they separate from the plastics so readily. Millions of tons of phthalates are produced every single year. They truly are ubiquitous.
Do not become complacent when you learn that some phthalates are being restricted. There is a huge number of them, so restricting a few doesn’t make you safe.
Blaming the Victims
As ever, people who suffer from diabetes are blamed for their disease. The association with excess weight is real, though not absolute, but the suggestion that people simply choose to become fat is not only cruel, it’s absurd. The rise in obesity and diabetes parallels that of many changes in the modern world, including phthalate pollution and toxicity in everyday objects and materials, along with changes in the very nature of the food we eat. There are good reasons to believe that both of these items, along with others, are changing our metabolism.
Some chemicals are known to be estrogen mimickers, causing gender-bending fish and all sorts of damage to wildlife. Phthalates, along with other endocrine disruptors, must be assumed to disrupt metabolism, making people crave food and even put on weight at lower calorie intakes.
A cycle of dieting to lose that excess weight—which generally encourages rapid weight loss—results in lowering the metabolism, thus reducing the number of calories required to survive and making future dieting ever more difficult.
How many people in this situation got that way because their metabolism was altered by phthalates? We don’t know—but we do know that it’s a likely scenario for millions of people today who have or are heading for diabetes.
Fifty years ago, few people were fat. It’s absurd to suggest that so many are now obese because they’re lazy or eat badly. There are many reasons for their affliction and blaming them for having obesity induced by the garbage sold in supermarkets and the omnipresence of phthalates accomplishes nothing positive.
Health-e-Solutions comment: Our environment, internal and external, indoors and outdoors, has reached a point of inescapable concern. Taking healthy measures to minimize your exposure and keep your body’s detoxification systems functioning optimally can be of great benefit to long term health and #BloodSugarControl. In our downloadable, printable special report on the Environment, Diabetes and Health, we present evidence that demands action, and we give you the tools to take action to #MasterDiabetesNaturally. This is one of the five pillars in the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle that supports thriving health and better BloodSugarControl.
- Urinary Phthalate Metabolite Concentrations and Diabetes among Women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008; Environmental Health Perspectives; Tamarra James-Todd, Richard Stahlhut, John D. Meeker, Sheena-Gail Powell, Russ Hauser, Tianyi Huang, Janet Rich-Edwards
- Commission communication on the results of the risk evaluation and the risk reduction strategies for the substances: Piperazine; Cyclohexane; Methylenediphenyl diisocyanate; But-2yne-1,4-diol; Methyloxirane; Aniline; 2-Ethylhexylacrylate; 1,4-Dichlorobenzene; 3,5-dinitro-2,6-dimethyl-4-tertbutylacetophenone; Di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate; Phenol; 5-tert-butyl-2,4,6-trinitro-m-xylene
- Phthalates Action Plan Summary
- EPA accused of conflict of interest over chemicals study
- EPA’s Topsy-Turvy Definition of Conflict-of-Interest
- EPA chief denies conflict-of-interest allegations
- Rules Proposed to Limit New Uses of Potentially Harmful Chemicals / EPA also calls for additional testing on health and environmental impacts of PBDEs
- About phthalates (Our Stolen Future)
- [8a] The Precautionary Principle: A Fundamental Principle of Law and Policy for the Protection of the Global Environment
- MEHP/DEHP: gonadal toxicity and effects on rodent accessory sex organs.
- Reproductive and developmental toxicity of phthalates.
- Statement of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission on the possibility of allocating a group-TDI for Butylbenzylphthalate (BBP), di-Butylphthalate (DBP), Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), diIsononylphthalate (DINP) and di-Isodecylphthalate (DIDP)
- Phthalates (Environmental Working Group)
- How to Avoid Phthalates In 3 Steps
- Phthalates (Tox Town)
- Phthalates: What you need to know
- Phthalates found in everything from toys and clothes to paints, cosmetics, and electronics
- Phthalates (Toxipedia)
- What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens?
- Statistics About Diabetes