A report out this week found yet another possible harmful effect of exposure to phthalates.  The commonly used plastics chemical has already been linked to shortened pregnancies as well as possible damage to the liver, kidneys, and reproductive systems.  And now researches think there might also be a link between exposure to the chemical and abnormal breast development in boys.

Researchers from Turkey found higher blood levels of the most commonly used plasticizer, DEHP, in a group of boys with abnormal pubertal gynecomastia, or abnormal breast enlargement.  Blood DEHP levels were markedly higher in the boys with gynecomastia than in those without this condition.The condition usually resolves on its own after boys get through puberty.

Phthalates are found in a number of products including personal care products, paints, building materials, furniture, clothing, dentures, children's toys, cleaning materials, insecticides, food, certain medical devices and pharmaceuticals.  Studies have shown that phthalates accumulate in tissues, leading researcher to believe that their effects can increase as a person ages.

The Turkish study correlates with other studies showing that phthalates may be feminizing boys at an alarming rate.  Researchers think that phthalates might be mimicking the activity of estrogen.  One positive note from the Turkish study is that s that high phthalate levels in the blood were not linked to decreased testosterone, which other researchers have said could be how they affect the development of male reproductive organs.

Until the science is clearer, the researchers of this study at least are advising consumers to limit their exposure phthalates by avoiding the use of plastic cups and food coverings, particularly for hot foods, steering clear of plastic toys and unnecessary cosmetic use, and washing hands frequently to prevent contamination.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, December 2009.


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