Phthalates: Plasticisers trigger diabetes

5. July 2012
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Certain plasticisers in packaging and many cosmetics, known as phthalates (phthalate diesters), can cause type 2 diabetes, it emerges from a recent Swedish study from the University of Uppsala.

Previous studies show that phthalates can make men infertile or cause genital malformations in children. That is why the German Society for Endocrinology (DGE) urges that these plasticisers, which are also found in drugs and medical devices such as catheters and blood bags, be replaced with harmless substances.

A heavy burden from insulin resistance

The new Swedish PIVUS (Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors) study now shows a connection between phthalates and diabetes mellitus type 2. “While our results must be confirmed by further studies, they already now however support the hypothesis that certain chemical substances contribute to development of diabetes”, says Monica Lind of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Uppsala. The researcher from the University of Uppsala studied 1,016 subjects in total (men and women over seventy years of age) for angiopathy. The subjects were tested for their fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. In addition, study participants gave blood samples, from which analyses were then carried out with regard to environmental toxins – including those that arise when the body processes phthalates. Approximately one in nine subjects suffered from diabetes.

Most often those subjects who were suffering from diabetes were those who were overweight or had high lipid levels in the blood. However, the researchers also identified a link between the blood values determined for some of the phthalates and the incidence of diabetes – even taking into account risk factors such as obesity, lipid levels, smoking and lack of exercise. In almost all patients, the researchers found at least four out of ten metabolites of phthalates. Three of these metabolites were associated with an increased risk of diabetes. These test subjects with elevated phthalate values showed a risk of diabetes approximately double as high as those with minor values. The researchers also found that certain phthalates were associated with an impaired insulin production in the pancreas. “But in order to determine if phthalates are in fact risk factors for diabetes further studies must be conducted that show similar correlations”, Lind admits. She referred in this context to a smaller series of Mexican investigations with 120 pregnant women which also pointed to an increased risk of diabetes from phthalates. “Further experimental studies on animals and cells are needed to learn more about the biological mechanisms underlying these relationships”, says the researcher.

Partial labeling in the EU

Several plasticisers disrupt the human hormone system, for example, by inhibiting male sex hormones. Studies from Germany and the USA have repeatedly found hormonally-active phthalates in the urine of the population. In some cases the levels even exceeded those indicated as significant in the guidelines. In addition, different phthalates can increase their damaging effects. In men they can cause infertility and with neonatals they can promote malformations of the genital organs. “Apparently, certain phthalates inhibit the formation of insulin”, suspects Prof. Dr. Dr. hc Helmut Schatz, endocronologist from Bochum and media spokesman for the DGE. “Others however are probably conducive to resistance to the hormone.” It is appropriate that this be as quickly clarified as possible by further studies.

“We now know that these substances cause harm to human health. They are therefore banned within the EU, for example, in children’s toys”, says Schatz. For food packaging, the accepted levels of phthalate contents have since been reduced. Yet many medical devices such as blood and IV bags, tubes or catheters show higher concentrations of phthalates. These substances can be easily released from the plastic and thus get into the human body. The EU in March 2010, it has been noted, did at least enforce the compulsory labeling of medical devices which contain di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate.

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Six groups of chemicals are treated as suspect

A study commissioned by the environmental organization BUND (The Association for Environmental and Nature Conservation Germany), in which approximately 240 individual studies from recent years have been combined, warns particularly against six groups of chemicals: plasticisers that make PVC products flexible (vinyl wallpaper, shower curtains, children’s toys), flame retardants (in televisions, computers, upholstery), bisphenol A (in food packaging and receipts), organotin compounds (in inflatable water toys, shoes), organophosphate pesticides (found in fruits and vegetables) and contaminated sites such as the toxins dioxin or PCBs. “A load including chemicals such as bisphenol A in the womb of experimental animals later led to weight gain and insulin resistance”, warns BUND chemical expert Sarah Häuser.

Especially vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children need therefore to be better protected. Numerous chemicals have an effect similar to human sex hormones and can thus bring the endocrine system out of balance. Bisphenol A for instance works as an artificial female sex hormone, phthalate plasticisers have an inhibitory effect on male sex hormones. Other chemicals affect the metabolism and may interfere with appetite control. Many hormonal pollutants are highly effective even in low concentrations, while higher doses are said to have no effect at times. “As part of the review of the European chemicals policy in mid-2013, the German Federal Government should ensure that companies are obliged to replace harmful substances with safer alternatives”, says Häuser.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are used in very large quantities as plasticisers in PVC. DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) and DINP (di-isononyl phthalate) are mainly used in food packaging and coatings. Many medical products such as blood and infusion bags, gloves and contact lenses are made of soft PVC. The content of phthalate plasticisers in flexible PVC is an average of 30 and can be up to 60 percent. Since they are not tightly bound in PVC, they can evaporate out of the plastic or be washed out. Phthalates can be taken up through breathing, via food and absorbed through the skin.

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1 comment:

Dr. Bijan Mohammadhosseini
Dr. Bijan Mohammadhosseini

This could be an important trigger point in developing countries for environmental saving program.A real anti-plastic war.

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