Phthalates are odorless, colorless additives mainly used as plasticizers – substances added to plastics to increase flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity – and are also frequently used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Phthalates are widely used in a variety of products. These can include pharmaceutical, gelling agents, stabilizers, lubricants, emulsifiers, and in the manufacture of adhesives, electronics, building materials, detergents, plastic wrap, toys, printing inks, paints, textiles, and present in processed food and personal care products.
But in recent years phthalates have been gradually phased out of many items in the US, Canada, and Europe due to health concerns – as research has found, for example in rodent models, evidence that in elevated doses phthalates can cause hormonal and metabolic abnormalities, and birth defects.
Environmentally, phthalates are easily released into the environment because there is no covalent bond between the chemical and plastics. As plastics age and break down, the release accelerates. Because phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they too can easily leach into the surrounding environment.
Research published in The Journal of Pediatrics also suggests that phthalate exposure may compromise heart health in children. Investigators at NYU Langone Medical Center, in collaboration with the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine Data, culled data from a nationally survey of nearly 3,000 children and teens – documenting connections between dietary exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate), a common class of phthalate widely used in industrial food production, and elevated systolic blood pressure, a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.
Dr. Leonardo Trasande – associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Medical Center – led the study. According to Dr. Trasande, “We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to environmental exposures in early development of disease.”
Six years of survey data administered by the National Centers for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was examined. Phthalates were measured in urine samples.
Phthalates were found to inhibit function of cardiac cells, create oxidative stress, and negatively impact the health of the arteries – leading to the potential for pre-hypertension.
Hypertension is one of the two primary causes of cardiovascular disease – the other atherosclerosis – and is clinically defined as a systolic blood-pressure reading above 140/90 mmHg; 90 being the diastolic reading. This chronic elevation in blood pressure forces the heart muscle to labor harder in order to circulate blood.
Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attacks), heart failure, and aneurysms of the arteries. Moderate elevation of arterial blood pressure is associated with a shortened life expectancy.
High blood pressure is more common in people over 50, but the condition is becoming increasingly prevalent among children. National surveys indicate that 14 percent of American adolescents now have pre-hypertension or hypertension – citing obesity as a contributor.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can improve blood pressure control and decrease the risk of associated health complications. Otherwise drug treatment is used for those whose lifestyle changes prove ineffective or insufficient.
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