There has been growing concern with phthalates in recent years, especially where children are involved. Studies have linked it to ADHD, an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure in children and breast enlargement in boys. Unfortunately, we are exposed to this chemical daily.
So, what are phthalates? According to the CDC, “Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials.”
And they are common in many different types of products. “Phthalates are used widely in polyvinyl chloride plastics, which are used to make products such as plastic packaging film and sheets, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing, and some children's toys.”
Plus, the CDC informs us that we also are exposed to this chemical when “by eating and drinking foods that have been in contact with containers and products containing phthalates. To a lesser extent exposure can occur from breathing in air that contains phthalate vapors or dust contaminated with phthalate particles.”
Which is to say, phthalates are very hard to avoid. Recently, they even discovered this chemical in our butter! Researchers believe that phthalates may have seeped into butter from the plastic tubing used when milking the cow or from the packaging itself.
And now, we have one more reason to be concerned. A new study has found a link between phthalates exposure in the womb and abnormalities of boys' genitals. Specifically, researchers found that the higher a mother’s phthalate levels are during pregnancy, the shorter her baby's anogenital distance (the space between the genitals and anus). A short anogenital distance is related to low fertility rates in adult men. Researchers still need to learn more about whether an infant's anogenital distance remains the same as he grows, and confirm this study's findings, but it is a concern.
While the CDC says studies are still unclear on the safety of phthalates and the American Chemical Society maintain that phthalate levels for the average American are fine, research like this highlights concern over the effects of certain chemicals on growing children.
Although we may not be able to avoid all phthalates, to decrease exposure, start by eating plenty of produce (which is low in phthalates) and less processed foods, and avoid storing and microwaving foods in plastic. I’d also recommend looking into phthalate exposure in beauty products.
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