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Common Chemicals Linked to Chronic Disease in Men

Chemicals found in everyday plastics have been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in men.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute investigated the independent association between chronic diseases among 1500 men and concentrations of phthalates, which are widely used in common consumer products such as food packaging and wrappings, toys, medications and even medical devices.

The study, published in Environmental Research, detected phthalates in the urine samples of 99.6% of those aged 35 and over. “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 A/Prof Zumin Shi.

“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 regulates 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.

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.