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There is increasing concern over phthalates and BPA and their effects on human health. It turns out that a big source of phthalates (which are known endocrine disruptors) in humans may be fast food. A new study looked at fast food consumption by  8877 people and found that those who reported eating more of it in the past 24 hours had urinary phthalate levels as much as 40 percent higher than those who had eaten no fast food in the 24 hours before testing. In fact, it was dose-response relationship between fast food intake and exposure to phthalates - the more fast food, the higher the level of phthalates.

The researchers did not find an association between total fast food consumption and BPA. However, they did find an  association between fast food meat intake and BPA,  which corresponds to the small but growing evidence from other studies suggesting that hamburgers may be a source of BPA exposure.

These findings are of concern to all of us because phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are widely used industrial chemicals that may adversely impact human health. Studies detect phthalates in 98% of the US population. They are found in a wide variety of products (including plastics and personal care products), and can enter the human body via ingestion, inhalation, and absorption through the skin. How are we exposed to them in fast food? Phthalates and BPA are typically found in food packaging and some leaches out into food. Some can also leach into food from dairy product tubing, in lid gaskets, food preparation gloves, conveyor belts, etc. Thus we ingest phthalates and BPA when we consume processed or packaged food. Fast food may be an especially important source of exposure to phthalates and BPA because it is highly processed, packaged, and handled.

Studies have demonstrated that the phthalates DEHP and DiNP are endocrine (hormone) disruptors, and that human exposure has been associated with adverse reproductive, neurobehavioral, and respiratory health effects. BPA is also an endocrine disruptor. We are all being exposed numerous ways, but the lower the levels, the better. The good news is that once in the body, phthalates and BPA are quickly metabolized and excreted in urine, with elimination half-lives of less than 24 hours. Thus you can quickly reduce the levels in your body. And you should try. From Science Daily:

Fast food may expose consumers to harmful chemicals called phthalates

People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.

"People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher," says lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH. "Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults."Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.

Zota and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates--DEHP and DiNP.

Zota and her colleagues found that the more fast food participants in the study ate the higher the exposure to phthalates. People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. And those same fast food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing. The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Zota says the grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles.

In addition, the researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging--Bisphenol A or BPA. Researchers also believe exposure to BPA can lead to health and behavior problems, especially for young children. This study found no association between total fast food intake and BPA. However, Zota and her colleagues found that people who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast food consumption.

Some more bad news about BPA and other endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors) such as the phthalate DEHP. Bottom line: Avoid plastics, BPA, BPS and other BPA substitutes (they're chemically similar and seem to have similar health effects) as much as possible. Most canned food has BPA or BPA substitutes in the can linings. Use glass and stainless steel to store food, microwave food in dishes (not in plastic containers or packages). Go to the Environmental Working Group site for more information on product information, what to avoid, and what to look for and get instead.

From Science daily: BPA substitute can trigger fat cell formation: Chemical used in BPA-free products exhibits similar endocrine-disrupting effects

Exposure to a substitute chemical often used to replace bisphenol A in plastics can encourage the formation of fat cells, according to a new study. The replacement chemical, bisphenol S, has a slightly different chemical structure than bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor. As of 2014, nearly 100 epidemiological studies have been published tying BPA to health problems, according to the Introductory Guide to Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals published by the Society and IPEN, a global network that supports sound chemicals management.

Concerns about BPA's health effects have encouraged some consumers to purchase food containers labeled "BPA-free." BPA-free products often contain bisphenol S (BPS)or other substitutes, but researchers have raised concerns that these replacements also interfere with the body's hormones and may pose similar threats to public health."Our research indicates BPS and BPA have comparable effects on fat cells and their metabolism," said the study's senior author, Ella Atlas, PhD, of Health Canada, the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health. 

A report (a collaborative effort of 5 organizations) that looked for the presence of BPA and BPA substitutes in the linings of food cans from major food companies. And yes, they found BPA in most cans (67%). From the group Toxic Food Cans: Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food

This study set out to analyze the interior coatings and lids of nearly 200 canned foods collected in 19 states and one Canadian province to determine whether the use of bisphenol A (BPA) continues to be widespread among major national brands and retailers of canned foods. We also wanted to determine what replacement materials for BPA-based epoxy are being used by retailers and manufacturers and the extent to which those companies have studied the safety of those materials.

Our findings were alarming: This report validates our concerns that, despite consumer demand for BPA-free cans, 67 percent (129 of 192) of the cans we tested contained BPA-based epoxy in the body and/or the lid. Our investigation also found, for the first time, that some retailers and brands have replaced BPA with PVC, made from vinyl chloride, a carcinogen.

BPA is a hormonally active chemical. The scientific evidence linking BPA exposure to harm in humans is compelling and growing: More than 300 animal and human studies have linked exquisitely small amounts of BPA exposure, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to a staggering number of health problems, including breast and prostate cancer, asthma, obesity, behavioral changes (including attention deficit disorder), altered development of the brain and immune system, low birth weight and lowered sperm counts.

This study looked at plasticizers called phthalates (which are commonly found in medical tubes), and which also have endocrine disrupting effects. From Medical Xpress:  Attention deficit after kids' critical illness linked to plasticizers in medical tubes

Children who are often hospitalized in intensive care units are more likely to have attention deficit disorders later, and new research finds a possible culprit: a high level of plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates circulating in the blood. The researchers.....suggest these chemicals, which are added to indwelling medical devices such as plastic tubes and catheters, seep into the child's bloodstream.

"Phthalates have been banned from children's toys because of their potential toxic and hormone-disrupting effects, but they are still used to soften medical devices," said lead researcher Sören Verstraete, MD, a PhD student at KU (Katholieke Universiteit) Leuven in Leuven, Belgium. "We found a clear match between previously hospitalized children's long-term neurocognitive test results and their individual exposure to the phthalate DEHP during intensive care."

Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, or DEHP, is the most commonly used plastic softener in medical devices made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Verstraete called the use of medical devices containing this phthalate "potentially harmful" for the brain development and function of critically ill children.

U.S. government agencies (such as FDA) say phthalates are OK, but evidence is mounting that they definitely are not OK. It's impossible to totally avoid phthalates, but one can lower exposure amounts by eating whole unprocessed foods, not microwaving or storing food in plastic containers (best is glass), and read ingredient lists on labels, including personal care products. From Medical Xpress:

Plastics chemical tied to changes in boys' reproductive development

When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalates during the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study suggests.Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.

"We saw these changes even though moms' exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years," said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women," she contended.

Swan said that this study cannot prove that these boys will have fertility problems as adults or that DEHP causes these problems. However, animal studies have implicated the chemical in male reproductive problems. Based on the data from this study, Swan believes there is a strong association between exposure to DEHP and fertility in human males.

DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said. "Since food is the largest source of DEHP for consumers, it is difficult for pregnant women to minimize exposure," she said. "Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers."The chemical is also found in medical tubing and in a variety of products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, Swan said.

For the study, Swan's team collected data on almost 800 pregnant women and their infants.Specifically, the researchers found that exposure in the womb to three types of DEHP was associated with a significantly shorter anogenital distance in boys, but not in girls.

A group representing the chemical industry took issue with the study, however. In a statement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stressed that the study only examined one type of phthalate, not all versions of the chemical... The ACC added that DEHP "is known to break down into its metabolites within minutes after it enters the body. 

But another expert says phthalate exposure may not be benign. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said, "virtually everyone in the U.S. experiences continual exposure to phthalates."And, a number of studies have tied the chemicals with changes in developing fetuses. "Phthalates, in particular, have been shown in both human and animal studies to interfere with normal fetal development," he said.

This study supports what has been demonstrated before, that phthalate exposure in the first trimester is linked to male reproductive development, Spaeth said. "This study is an important step forward in establishing this effect because the study included a much larger number of individuals than prior studies and helps identify one particular agent, DEHP, as an important contributor to this effect," he said.Additionally, this study shows the importance of exposure in the first trimester as a critical window for the effect of phthalates on the male reproductive system.