Phthalates are everywhere, but they’ve evaded much regulation because they aren’t acutely toxic. This study, though, documents a strong connection between these toxic chemicals and diabetes.by Heidi Stevenson
A major study shows a very strong connection between phthalate exposure and diabetes in women. This group of chemicals is ubiquotous. You literally cannot eliminate them from your life. Though diabetes is generally thought to be a disease that results from poor lifestyle and poor diet, it may have more to do with environmental chemicals thrust on us than on poor personal choices.
Phthalates—pronounced thal-ates, first a is short—have been used in products for decades. They are found virtually everywhere. We even breathe them in. They’re a group of chemicals that do provide some benefits, mostly in terms of making plastics malleable. However, they were foisted on us without consideration for their potential to cause harm, and now we’re seeing massive damage to human health, along with pollution of the environment.
Now we have strong nearly cause-and-effect evidence showing that exposure to phthalates is a cause of diabetes in women. Based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large and ongoing project examining the health of Americans, the study connecting diabetes with phthalates noted that other recent studies have documented how phthalates interfere with glucose metabolism and fat creation. As the authors commented:
Dysregulation of glucose metabolism, possibly through increased insulin resistance, is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
The study compared concentrations of several phthalates MEP, MnBP, MiBP, MBzP, MCPP, and DEHP (and its associated versions MEHP, MEHHP, and MEOHP) with the presence of diabetes in all the NHANES women from 2001-2008 who were aged 20 to 80. They took into consideration several potential confounders, including age, race/ethnicity, highest level of educational attainment, poverty status, fasting time, physical activity, smoking status, total caloric and total fat intake.
Results were split into quartiles according to phthalate metabolites in urine. The first quartile results were treated as normal. The results showed that different kinds of phthalates have different degrees of effect. However, all showed a direct correlation between urine phthalate metabolites and diabetes:
In general, the more phthalates a woman had in her system, the greater her risk for diabetes. Note, though, that comparisons were not made with phthalate-free women, but only with the women whose levels were in the lowest quartile. In reality, since phthalates are found in virtually everyone today, the true risk of diabetes from phthalates may be far higher.
The researchers found that women in the fourth quartile (the ones who had the most phthalates in their systems) were about twice as likely to suffer from diabetes. They also found, “Certain phthalate metabolites were positively associated with fasting glucose and insulin resistance,” thus demonstrating an even stronger correlation.
This study has not shown a direct cause-and-effect relationship between phthlates and diabetes because the mechanism was not investigated. It does though, paint a devastating picture of an association. Our regulatory agencies have utterly failed to protect us from what must be assumed a major cause of the modern world’s diabetes scourge unless proven otherwise.
The precautionary principle has not been followed, in spite of awareness that phthalates are known endocrine system disruptors, making them likely causes of disease. As documented by Our Stolen Future, phthalates were given a clean bill of health by intentionally ignoring this obviously important principle:
The debate heated up further in the US when an industry PR firm that masquerades as a public health organization, the American Council on Science and Health, put together a panel to review the safety of phthalates. Headed by retired Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the panel ultimately issued a flawed report that concluded phthalates were safe. Their report failed to consider several key recent publications and misrepresented another, citing the latter as stating that no kidney damage was caused when in fact the research did not assess kidney damage. They committed an even more basic error, moreover, by accepting the absence of data as proof of safety. Absence of data proves only ignorance.
The diabetes connection to phthalates has not been particularly noted before. However, there are other toxic effects that you should know. Studies have shown that they have deleterious effects on both male and female reproductive capability. They’ve been associated with breast cancer. Boy babies born to women exposed to phthalates can have defective genital development. They may be the reason behind earlier maturation of girls. They’re linked to poor semen quality.
With all these negative health effects, one must wonder how they’ve gotten onto the market and stayed there. The problem is that phthalates are not acutely toxic. Ingesting small amounts will not show immediate harm. However, they collect in the body. Therefore, over time, these chemicals that seem to have low toxic levels add up. Because they’re ubiquitous, we take them into our bodies constantly. Over time they’re taking an enormous toll.
Though it may sound like beating the same drum over and over, the fact is that the precautionary principle was never applied in the roll out of all these toxic chemicals. As a result, we now live in a world contaminated with them, so that we literally breathe them in, and we’ve grown dependent on the conveniences they bring. The question is, just how much health are we willing to give up for that convenience?
Read about how to protect yourself from phthalates, the lack of decent regulation, and how diabetes victims are blamed for the illness that may be triggered by these toxins in part 2, Phthalates: Lack of Regulation and Protecting Yourself.
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