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One Household Chemical Was Recently Linked to Several Chronic Diseases


In a recent study at Australia’s University of Adelaide, researchers discovered that chemicals called phthalates, which are present in everyday plastics and personal care products, are associated with type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure in men.

These harmful chemicals are ubiquitous in modern life. They are used in the manufacture of a broad scope of household items, such as toys, medications, food packaging, medical devices, vinyl flooring, building materials, shower curtains, backpacks, and even many childrens’ lunch boxes. In addition, phthalates are contained in numerous personal care products, especially those with a fragrance.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) started the study by conducting urinalyses on 1,500 men. Phthalates were found in 99.6 percent of every man aged 35 and older. (So imagine the levels of these dangerous substances in women, who put an average of 168 chemicals on their bodies daily.)

“We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels,” said senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi, from the University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Medical School and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health, and a member of SAHMRI’s Nutrition & Metabolism theme.

“While we still don’t understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function.

“In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body,” he says.

Increased levels of phthalates are tied to age and western diets. Earlier studies have shown that men who drink more sodas and eat more processed and packaged foods have increased concentrations of the chemical in their urine, compared to those who drink fewer sodas and eat more fruits and vegetables.

Link Between Phthalates and Disease Remained After Results Were Adjusted for Other Factors

“Importantly, while 82% of the men we tested were overweight or obese – conditions known to be associated with chronic disease – when we adjusted for this in our study, the significant association between high levels of phthalates and disease was not substantially altered,” said Shi.

“In addition, when we adjusted for socio-economic and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol, the association between high levels of phthalates and disease was unchanged.”

We can’t assume that phthalates have adverse health effects only in men. While the study was confined to men, Shi said the results would likely apply to women as well.

“While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease,” he says.

How to Minimize Exposure to Phthalates

Contact with phthalates can come from ingestion, inhalation and absorption. It’s impossible to avoid the chemicals, but you can minimize your exposure through the following means:

  • Phthalates are rarely included on product labels, but see if the term “fragrance” is listed. If so, the item probably contains one of the chemicals.
  • Check the Skin Deep database put out by the Environmental Working Group to find phthalate-free products.
  • Avoid air fresheners, even those labeled “fragrance-free,” unless they claim they are scented only with natural oils.
  • Don’t buy plastic products that have recycling codes 3 or 7: instead, look for recycling codes 1, 2 or 5.
  • Avoid plastic food storage containers, bottles and sippy cups in favor of those made with glass or stainless steel.
  • Since phthalates are used in pesticides, choose organic produce, meat and dairy products.
  • Invest in a high-quality water filter; namely a nano-filtration system.
  • Don’t microwave food in plastic because high temperatures cause the chemicals to leach out.
  • Phthalates were banned from toys in 2008, so throw away any toys purchased before that year.
  • When painting, be sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Select non-vinyl outdoor furniture, building material and shower curtains whenever possible.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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