15 April 2012

Exposure To Phthalates Such as Those Found In Plastic Bottles and Cosmetics Doubles Risk of Acquiring Type 2 Diabetes

Phthalates are esters (a chemical compound) of phthalic acid. These are usually used as plasticizers (an extender or substance added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Phthalates are being phased out of many products in various countries such as the United States, Canada, and the European Union because of health concerns. Despite this step, many organizations have reported on the safety of phthalates and its long history of use.

Phthalates can be found and are used in a large variety of products such as pharmaceutical pills, lubricants, and gelling agents. They are also used in common items such as adhesives and glues, electronics, personal care products, cosmetics, detergents, food and even in children's toys.

A concern about phthalates is that they are easily released into the surrounding environment. As plastics age and break down, the release of phthalates accelerates. People are commonly exposed to phthalates, and most Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine. Because phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can easily leach and evaporate into food or the atmosphere.

High levels of phthalates can lead to greater risk for type-2 diabetes

There is a connection between phthalates found in cosmetics and plastics and the risk of developing diabetes among seniors. Even at a modest increase in circulating phthalate levels, the risk of diabetes is doubled. This conclusion is drawn by researchers at Uppsala University in a study published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Video: American Chemistry Council on Phthalates

"Although our results need to be confirmed in more studies, they do support the hypothesis that certain environmental chemicals can contribute to the development of diabetes," says Monica Lind, associate professor of environmental medicine at the Section for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Uppsala University.

Together with Lars Lind, professor of medicine at Uppsala University, she has analysed new information from the so-called PIVUS study, which covers more than 1 000 70-year-old women and men in Uppsala.

In a physical examination participants were examined for fasting blood sugar and various insulin measures. They submitted blood samples for analysis of various environmental toxins, including several substances formed when the body breaks down so-called phthalates. Most people come into daily contact with phthalates as they are used a softening agents in plastics and as carriers of perfumes in cosmetics and self-care products.

As expected, diabetes was more common among participants who were overweight and had high blood lipids. But the researchers also found a connection between blood levels of some of the phthalates and increased prevalence of diabetes, even after adjusting for obesity, blood lipids, smoking, and exercise habits. Individuals with elevated phthalate levels had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared with those with lower levels. They also found that certain phthalates were associated with disrupted insulin production in the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which there are high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Diabetes is caused by a problem in the way the body produces insulin. Insulin is needed to move blood sugar (glucose) into cells, where it is stored and later used for energy. With Type 2 diabetes, the fat, liver, and muscle cells does not react correctly to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. As a result, blood sugar does not get into these cells to be stored for energy.

"However, to find out whether phthalates truly are risk factors for diabetes, further studies are needed that show similar associations. Today, besides the present study, there is only one small study of Mexican women. But experimental studies on animals and cells are also needed regarding what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections," says Monica Lind.

Facts about phthalates:

Mono-methyl phthalate (MMP), Mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP) are all metabolites of the chemicals dimethylphthalate (DMP), Diethyl phthalate (DEP) and Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), respectively, and are used in, among other things, cosmetics, self-care products, solid air fresheners, and scented candles. DMP is also used in ink and as a softening agent in cellulose plastics.


Uppsala University
Diabetes Care
Occupational and Environmental Medicine
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