Study links chemicals in everyday plastics to chronic diseases in men

CANBERRA — Potentially harmful chemicals found in everyday plastics, such as drink bottles, have been linked to the prevalence of chronic diseases in men, Australian researchers said Thursday.

Scientists from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute tested more than 1,500 men for the presence of chemicals known as phthalates, which have been linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes.

Of the 1,500 men tested, phthalates were detected in urine samples of nearly every (99.6 percent) of those aged 35 years and older, something University of Adelaide Associate Prof. Zumin Shi said was due to consuming foods contained in plastics.

“We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels,” Shi said in a statement Thursday.

“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.”

Shi said it was typical that Westerners had higher levels of phthalates because many foods are now packaged in plastic. He said previous studies had shown that those who drank soft drinks and ate pre-packaged foods had significantly higher phthalate levels in their urine compared to those who ate healthier.

“Importantly, while 82 percent 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.”

Shi said while his study focused primarily on men, the results were also highly likely to be relevant to females as well.

“While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help reduce the risk of chronic disease,” Shi said.