Amount of phthalates in average American diet exceeds EPA threshold, study finds

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(NaturalNews) A young child consuming a typical US diet is exposed to phthalate levels more than twice as high as those considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington and published in the journal Environmental Health in June.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals widely used in a variety of industrial applications, including making plastics softer and making cosmetics smoother. They are also known endocrine disruptors, mimicking the action of hormones (particularly estrogen) in the human body and producing a wide variety of health effects.

Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to these effects. In 2008, widespread concern over the presence of phthalates in toys, baby bottles and teethers led to a Congressional ban on the chemicals in products meant for children.

Now, the new study shows that food can also be a major source of phthalate exposure.

"When the children's toys were being brought up, it was specifically for kids mouthing a lot of plastic toys," researcher Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, MPH, said. "Now that we have more information and the research has evolved, we know [there are] other sources."

Diet high in animal foods places kids at risk

Using data from 17 prior studies that had measured phthalate concentrations in different foods, the University of Washington researchers estimated the daily phthalate intake associated with four separate diets: a typical US diet, a diet based on US government dietary guidelines, a diet high in meat and dairy products and a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

The researchers found that, for both children and adults, the diet high in meat and dairy products contained dangerous levels of phthalates. The typical US diet contained levels that the EPA currently considers safe for adults, but that was nearly twice as high as the maximum exposure levels that have been set for babies and toddlers.

The diet high in fruits and vegetables, encouragingly, was considered safe for all ages.

Previous studies have shown that meat (especially poultry) and high-fat dairy products are especially high in phthalate contamination. According to Sathyanarayana, this may occur in part because of contamination from the plastic packaging used to store chicken feed or the plastic tubing used to transport milk. Fruits and vegetables are probably lowest in phthalates, because they undergo the least processing, she said.

The hormone-disrupting chemicals probably also accumulate in animal-based foods because, like other persistent organic pollutants, phthalates tend to concentrate in the fatty tissues of living beings. Because animals are higher up on the food chain than plants, they tend to accumulate more of these toxins over their lifetimes.

Simple steps to reduce your exposure

The findings should be of serious concern to parents, since phthalate exposure in pregnancy and childhood has been linked to early labor, genital deformity, early puberty and hormonal and neurobehavioral problems. In adults, phthalate exposure has been linked to DNA damage in sperm, reduced sperm quality, endometriosis, obesity and cancer. Research has also suggested that phthalates may even be connected with rising allergy rates.

Fortunately, there are a few basic things you can do to significantly reduce your phthalate exposure. In addition to eating a more plant-based diet, you can reduce your food's exposure to these chemicals by not storing or heating food or beverages in plastic containers (especially those marked with a 3) and by consuming fresh rather than canned or package fruits and vegetables.

You can also avoid phthalate-containing cosmetics, take your shoes off at the front door and regularly vacuum or wet-dust your home to prevent being exposed to phthalates in household dust.

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