Phthalates are everywhere. The chemicals are used in everyday consumer goods including food packaging, medications, and even medical devices. They're so common that they are found in the urine of nearly every human being on earth despite lingering doubts about their safety.
Previous studies have suggested that phthalates can reduce masculinity in males and now a new study finds that men with higher levels of phthalates in their urine also have higher levels of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) conducted the study, which was published in the international journal Environmental Research.
"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," said senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi.
"In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body," he said.
Age and western diets are directly associated with higher concentrations of phthalates. Previous studies have shown that men who ate less fresh fruit and vegetables and more processed and packaged foods, and drank carbonated soft drinks, have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.
"Importantly, while 82% of the men we tested were overweight or obese - conditions known to be associated with chronic diseases -- when we adjusted for this in our study, the significant association between high levels of phthalates and disease was not substantially altered," Shi said.
"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."
Associate Professor Shi says that although the studies were conducted in men, the findings are also likely to be relevant to women.