Plastic containers for food, but also toys and some cosmetics, these are all possible sources of phthalates… and health problems. A very recent scientific research shows that continuous exposure to high levels of phthalates can, in the long run, also contribute to an increase in the risk of diabetes. The study was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism by a group of American scientists from the University of Michigan School of Public Health (Peng et al, JCEM, Feb 2023).
Phthalates, what they are and where they are found
Phthalates are chemical substances used as plasticizing agents. Phthalates can therefore be found in toys, which children often put in their mouths thus assuming these substances, but also plastic containers, bottles and packaging from which they can migrate and move on to the foods or cosmetics they protect. Especially packaged meats, especially chicken, but also beef and pork, can contain phthalates. Phthalates have been detected in some cooking oils, but also butter and margarine, cream and, to a lesser extent, milk, yogurt and eggs, some canned fruits and packaged vegetables. Plastic bottled water may contain phthalates (Serrano et al, Environmental Health, 2014). Thus, phthalates enter the body and accumulate. In the long run, when the amount of phthalates is in excess, it can increase the risk of infertility but also endocrine problems and even diabetes. The research we are talking about today delves into the link between phthalates and the increased risk of diabetes.
Phthalates increase the risk of diabetes, the study
The study involved 1308 women, recruited between 1999 and 2000. Data relating to the amount of phthalates in urine was available for each volunteer. The women were followed up for 6 years and their health was assessed at the end of the study. Well, it turned out that those who had higher phthalate levels also had a 30% to 60% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Conclusions and warnings
The study has yet to continue and to allow for a better and more in-depth understanding of the link between phthalates and health. At the moment, the research has only involved women, therefore it may be useful to study any effects on men as well. Then, research showed that Black and Asian women had a higher degree of protection. Therefore, it might be interesting to shed some light on this aspect. For the moment, however, the research is certainly very interesting and shows that excessive exposure to phthalates for long periods of time can increase the risk of developing diabetes, at least in women. Of course, it is not possible to suddenly and completely eliminate exposure to phthalates, also because sometimes the contamination also occurs from tap water, through a production machine or even passing from a conveyor belt, and in addition the study doesn't have that purpose, does not want to demonize any product or create alarmism, but wants to bring awareness. The important thing is to always choose quality products and not of unknown origin, limit the use of water in plastic bottles as well as ready-made foods stored in plastic containers. If you intend to heat packaged food in the microwave, make sure that the container is compliant and suitable for microwaves and, in any case, once heated it is preferable to eat the food in a different container. To cover food only use plastic wrap intended for this purpose.