‘Safer’ Plasticizers Linked to Health Problems in Children, Study Says


New research shows that two chemicals used in plastics such as plastic wrap are connected to an increased risk of high blood pressure and other health problems found in children and teens.

Agata Blaszczak-Boxe writes in LiveScience that the two chemicals are diisononyl (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) which have been used as replacements for another chemical that had been shown have harmful effects on humans.

All these chemicals are in the group named phthalates, more commonly known as plasticizers. The chemicals, which were deemed “safer,” are being used in the production of plastic wrap, soap, cosmetics, and food containers, according to researchers.

“Our research adds to growing concerns that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders,” study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a statement.

Insulin resistance is a condition that causes the body’s cells to stop responding to the hormone insulin, which in turn leads to higher levels of blood sugar. The new study, published this week in the journal Hypertension, looked at 1,329 children and teens ages 8 to 19 and measured their blood pressure and the levels of DINP and DIDP in their urine. For every 10-fold increase in the levels of the two chemicals, the researchers found that young peoples’ blood pressure rose approximately one point higher.

This may seem like a small increase, but it is significant at the population level. In a study published in the May edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the same researchers looked at 356 adolescents ages 12 to 19 to examine the relationship of the teens’ levels of the two chemicals and their risk of developing insulin resistance, often a signal pointing toward the development of Type 2 diabetes.

High concentrations of both chemicals found in the urine were linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance. The reason for this is not yet clear, but earlier research on other types of phthalates has shown that they might change the expression of genes that are necessary for lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, which might possibly play a role in blood pressure regulation and insulin resistance, according to Dr. Trasande.

The steps to take when attempting to avoid exposure to these chemicals, says Trasande, include not putting plastic food containers or containers covered with plastic wrap in the microwave. Also, plastic containers should be washed by hand rather than in the dishwasher. Automated washing can cause plasticizers in the containers to leach more chemicals into food when they are used again at a later date.

The scientists from NYU Langone Medical Center used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Dr. David Argus told CBS News that federal agencies that regulate the manufacturing of these products overlooked the dangers associated with them, including the Food and Drug Administration.

“There’s this notion that they only react when there’s a problem,” he said. “It’s innocent until proven guilty and that’s an issue.”

Dr. Trasande also called for increased and more thorough testing before chemicals are added to products.

“Our study adds further concern for the need to test chemicals for toxicity prior to their broad and widespread use, which is not required under current federal law (the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act),” he said in a statement.

Medical Daily’s Samantha Olson writes the two chemicals were added to products as replacements for di-2-ethylhexyl phlatate (DEHP) after it was reported to be a health hazard by Dr. Trasande and his team. The health concerns were not limited to only metabolic disorders but also to neurodevelopmental disabilities and genital defects in babies.

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