(NaturalNews) Phthalates, chemicals used to soften plastics, are found in many personal care products such as hair sprays, perfumes, nail polish, sunscreens and lotions. They are also used in medical devices, on timed release pills (where they are often part of the coating), in children's toys and plastic food containers as well as in such products as floor and wall coverings. The new car smell, which makes owners proud, is due in part to phthalates which can escape from the plastic dashboard after sun exposure and leave a nasty coating on the inside of the windshield. A 2000 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found widespread phthalate exposure throughout U.S. society, with the highest levels in women of childbearing age; a troubling finding since these chemicals are known endocrine disruptors. Subsequent studies have linked phthalate exposure and a variety of health conditions making their widespread use a serious public health concern.
A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital examined urine samples from 2,350 women from around the United States looking for concentrations of phthalates. Their results showed striking correlations between phthalate levels and diabetes. Those with the highest levels of two common phthalates were also almost twice as likely to develop diabetes as were those with the lowest levels.
Yet another phthalate study was conducted in 2012, by scientists at Washington University's School of Medicine. This research involved evaluating phthalate levels in the blood and urine of 5,700 women. Findings showed that on average, women with the highest levels of phthalates experienced menopause 2.3 years earlier than those with lower levels, exposing them that much earlier to serious menopause related health risks such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Phthalates and sexual development in children
Studies of young girls in Puerto Rico have found high rates of premature thelarche, which is breast development before the age of eight, and often as young as two. In a study published in 2000, researchers compared 41 girls suffering from premature thelarche with 31 who were not. They found seven times the level of phthalates in the former group compared to the controls, a significant difference.
More recently, studies of male fetal development evaluated phthalate exposure in mothers in relation to play behavior. The urine from women near their 28th month of pregnancy was analyzed for phthalates. Mothers then answered a questionnaire about their child's play behavior and results were adjusted for differences in parental attitudes about sex specific play. Scores for masculine play behavior were lower in boys whose mothers had high levels of phthalates in their urine. Researchers suggest that phthalates may lower testosterone production during a critical time of male brain development.
Phthalates may contribute to attention deficit
Phthalates may also contribute to well documented increases in attention deficit disorder. Researchers in Korea compared phthalate levels in the urine of 261 school aged children between eight and 11 years old with symptoms of ADHD. Results confirmed a strong positive correlation between the two.
While none of these studies proves cause and effect, they suggest the need for further research on this critical topic, along with careful avoidance of phthalates whenever possible.
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