Men with higher levels of a chemical found in nearly every human being also had a higher incidence of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, an Australian study has found.
The chemicals in question are phthalates, widely used in consumer products ranging from food packaging to cash register receipts to toys and even medical devices. They are found in nearly all living humans and the Australian researchers said that that of the 1500 Australian men tested, phthalates were detected in urine samples of 99.6% of those aged 35 and over.
It’s what they found next that is causing concern.
“We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels,” says senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi, from the University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Medical School.
“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.
Higher chemical concentrations
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 says.
“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.”
Shi says that although the studies were conducted in men, the findings are also likely to be relevant to women.
“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.
The results of the study are published in the international journal Environmental Research.