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There is a growing concern about what everyday exposures to phthalates in consumer products is doing to our health. For example, they're in plastic toys, plastic food containers, personal care products, and vinyl floors. The biggest concern is what these chemicals are doing to the most vulnerable among us - developing babies during pregnancy (gestational exposure), and children (childhood exposure).

A newly published study finds a link between phthalate exposure during childhood (but not pregnancy) and higher risk of specific childhood cancers. Childhood phthalate exposure was linked to a 20% increase in childhood cancers, specifically osteosarcoma (a bone cancer) and lymphoma. The study followed 1,278,685 live births in Denmark for years.

While phthalates are in many consumer products (they make plastics soft or increase durability and consistency), they are in especially high levels in certain medications. Phthalates disrupt normal endocrine signaling and are associated with reproductive problems (e.g. negative effects on sperm, miscarriages), effects on thyroid function, and an increase in some cancers.

Studies like this show that we need to move away from phthalates in consumer products. The list of phthalate health harms is increasing annually.

From Science Daily: Exposure to phthalates -- the 'everywhere chemical' -- may increase children's cancer risk

In a first-of-its-kind study, research from the University of Vermont Cancer Center has linked phthalates, commonly called the "everywhere chemical," to higher incidence of specific childhood cancers.  ...continue reading "Childhood Exposure to Phthalates in Medications and Cancer"

There have been growing concerns about the presence of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals called phthalates in common products and foods. A recent study found phthalates in a large variety of fast foods purchased from fast food restaurants - from hamburgers and chicken nuggets, to chicken burritos. They found detectable levels of phthalates in all the foods sampled, with meat products having higher levels than non-meat foods, such as fries and pizza.

This could explain why an earlier study found that people eating fast food had higher levels of phthalates than those who didn't eat fast food (and ate homecooked meals instead).

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics soft, but are also known to disrupt the endocrine system. The chemicals leach into the food from the stain and water resistant packaging used for fast foods, and even from the gloves the food handling workers wear. When the foods are eaten, the consumer also ingests these chemicals -  and the higher the levels in the body, the greater the health effects.

Endocrine (hormone) disruptors, such as phthalates, are associated with all sorts of health problems, including cancers, reproductive harm (e.g. poorer semen quality), lowered sex and growth hormones in children, thyroid disease, immune effects, and liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, they are already found in the bodies of almost all Americans, so we should try to reduce our exposure.

Bottom line: try to eat less fast food, and try to eat more home cooked meals. Remember, the more you eat fast foods, the higher the phthalate levels in your body (it's a dose-response effect).

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful industrial chemicals detected in US fast foods

Chicken nuggets, burritos and other popular items consumers buy from fast food outlets in the United States contain chemicals that are linked to a long list of serious health problems, according to a first-of-its-kind study published today.  ...continue reading "Endocrine Disruptors Called Phthalates Found In Fast Food"

Many people don't realize that the plastic toys our children play with may contain harmful chemicals. Children get exposed to these chemicals by touching the toy (absorption through the skin), or ingesting chemicals (e.g. when a baby mouths the toy, or child ingests dust from the toy), but also from breathing in chemicals leaching out of all the plastic toys in the room into the air. This has been known a long time, yet here we are...

An international team of researchers looked at 419 chemicals and found 126 chemicals of concern (chemicals known to be harmful) in plastic toys - chemicals that they felt should no longer be used in children's toys. Many are endocrine disruptors, while others are linked to cancer. In this group were 31 plasticizer chemicals (including phthalates and BPA [bisphenol]), 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances. These chemicals can be measured in the urine. [Note: they did not look at some chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.]

The researchers conclude: "Nowadays, existing regulations mainly prioritize a small set of chemicals, and regulators struggle to keep up with the thousands of new chemicals entering the market every year." They stress that we need to avoid "regrettable substitution" (substituting a dangerous chemical with another equally dangerous related chemical - such as replacing BPA with BPS). We need to identify safer substances that can be used in toys.

The more plastic toys in a room, the more exposure. They are outgassing all the time - even if you can't smell it. Soft plastic toys emit (outgas) the most chemicals. Children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Currently there is no international agreement over which chemicals to ban or regulate, and not enough chemicals are regulated or banned in toys and children's products.

There is no way right now to know which plastic toys contain dangerous chemicals and which don't. Toy manufacturers do not tell us what chemicals are in the toys. So... yes, we absolutely need (global) regulations to totally ban the use of certain chemicals in plastic toys, especially because so many toys are produced in countries with weak environmental regulations. We need to use safer chemical alternatives in plastic toys.

Bottom line: Try to have fewer plastic toys, especially soft plastic toys. Try to ventilate rooms frequently (every day) by opening windows, even if only for a short while.

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

It has long been known that several chemicals used in plastic toys in different parts of the world can be harmful to human health. However, it is difficult for parents to figure out how to avoid plastic toys containing chemicals that may cause possible health risks to their children.   ...continue reading "Plastic Toys May Contain Harmful Chemicals"

This is rarely mentioned, but there is research showing that commonly used chemicals that we are exposed to, such as bisphenols (BPA, BPS), phthalates, persistent organic pollutants (e.g.flame retardants, nonstick cookware), heavy metals (e.g. lead), and some pesticides (e.g.chlorpyrifos, glyphosate), all have an impact on the gut microbiome in animals and humans.

For example, these chemicals may alter levels of certain microbial species, or alter the variety (diversity) and type of species in the gut, or increase intestinal inflammation. These alterations are associated with health effects, and the effects may be different depending on the stage of life. Yikes!

The human gut microbiome is the huge and complex community of microbes (fungi, bacteria, viruses) that live in our intestines and play important roles in our health. Trillions of microbes, hundreds of species. The presence of certain microbial species in the gut are associated with health, and the presence of certain other species are associated with disease. We know that what we eat and drink, whether we exercise, and other lifestyle factors can influence the gut microbes, but it appears we also need consider exposure to chemicals in the environment around us.

A recent study by University of Illinois researchers reviewed the environmental chemical and microbiome research, and found that many chemicals have an effect on the gut microbiome. They point out that humans are constantly exposed to hundreds of chemicals in the environment, and many get into humans (through inhalation, ingestion, absorption through the skin). Currently more than 300 environmental chemicals and their metabolites have been measured in humans (e.g. in blood and urine).

Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors, and many are associated with adverse health effects, including male and female reproductive and developmental defects, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular effects, liver disease, obesity, thyroid disorders, and immune effects.

By the way, gut microbiome effects are currently not considered by the EPA when regulating chemicals.

From Science Daily: Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health

The microbes that inhabit our bodies are influenced by what we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin, and most of us are chronically exposed to natural and human-made environmental contaminants. In a new paper, scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign review the research linking dozens of environmental chemicals to changes in the gut microbiome and associated health challenges.  ...continue reading "Some Common Chemicals Alter the Gut Microbiome"

Many of us have concerns over the fact that people are constantly exposed to endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt hormonal systems) in many common household and personal products. Even the vinyl flooring found in many homes  contains phthalates, which are endocrine disrupting chemicals.

In the past year several studies have looked at vinyl flooring in homes and whether the chemicals in the flooring outgas into the air and then get into people living in the homes. The answer is YES - the chemicals in vinyl flooring do get into people living there, and they can be measured in urine (in the breakdown products of phthalates called metabolites).

Since research shows that endocrine disrupting chemicals have health effects, then the question is: Do chronic low levels do anything to people? Especially worrisome is, are they having an effect on the developing fetus when pregnant women are exposed to them and they get into the body?

The following 2 studies looked at flooring, but keep in mind that we are exposed to phthalates in many, many products - e.g., plastic shower curtains, plastic food containers, some personal care products, household products. The problem is that the pthalates migrate out of the plastic products - they don't stay in the product. In the case of vinyl flooring - one can say that there are phthalate emissions from the flooring! And of course it gets into household dust.

Numerous studies found that phthalates (the phthalate metabolites) are routinely found in people of all ages - throughout the world. It can be measured in our blood (serum) and in our urine. Studies find them in breastmilk and also in amniotic fluid. Research finds associations associations between exposure to several phthalates and various effects on human health, including reproductive effects.

The following are two complementary studies. Study 1 looked at vinyl flooring (called PVC flooring in the article) in homes (in the kitchen and bedrooms), and found that phthalates get into pregnant women, and can be measured in the urine. Study 2 (from Duke University), found that chemicals children are exposed to in the home from vinyl flooring and the sofa (flame-retardants) can be measured in their blood and urine. The researchers took all sorts of samples from homes and children over a 3 year period and found evidence in the children of exposure to phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols, antibacterial agents and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

So we have proof that these chemicals are getting into us. We can't avoid them totally, but can lower our exposure levels - look for upholstered furniture without flame retardants (read the label!), and don't install vinyl flooring (wood and tile floors are OK).  ...continue reading "What’s Getting Into You From Vinyl Flooring?"

Some good news for women and breast cancer. We are all exposed to endocrine disruptors  around us - such as in personal care items, some household items, some medical devices and medications, plastic raincoats, and vinyl flooring. Phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors, are used as plasticizers in many of these products. We can lower our exposure to phthalates, but can't totally eliminate it. So a big question is: Is exposure to phthalates linked to breast cancer?

Animal and laboratory studies suggest that a number of phthalates have carcinogenic effects (cancer causing), but several retrospective studies of women had mixed results regarding whether higher phthalate levels are associated with breast cancer or not. But now a large study (the Women's Health Initiative) that followed postmenopausal women for 2 decades has found that phthalate levels are not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

The 1257 women (average age 62 1/2 years at the start) in the study gave either 2 or 3 urine samples (once a year) during the first 2 or 3 years of the study, and the urine was analyzed for a number of phthalates. Then the women were followed for 19 years. The researchers found some "suggestive associations", but nothing significant. Whew... We can breathe sigh of relief.

However, there are some real problems with the study. While it does not look likely that phthalates have a large effect, smaller associations are possible, which the researchers discuss.

1) One big problem is that phthalates are rapidly metabolized and excreted from the body, so that the levels can vary tremendously from one point in time to another. (Half of phthalate metabolites are excreted in urine within 12 to 24 hours of exposure.) And the researchers did find that "phthalate biomarker concentrations exhibited high within-person variability over a 3 year period".  More urine samples should have been taken from the women - not just one a year for 2 or 3 years. This study did not look at who routinely got exposed to high levels of phthalates and who wasn't. Half of phthalate metabolites are excreted in urine within 12 to 24 hours of exposure. Just having a week with lots of fast food could raise phthalate levels (the chemicals leach in from the packaging). See why only one measurement a year is inadequate?

2) Another big problem is that most of the postmenopausal women - whether with breast cancer or not, were using hormone therapy - in the past or during the study. As the researchers point out: "Because phthalates are far less estrogenic than hormone therapy formulations, it is possible that hormone therapy use may mask any true effect of phthalate exposure on breast cancer risk." 3) And the last big issue to think about is that this study did not look at early life exposures to phthalates, such as during puberty when the breasts are developing. Other studies suggest that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals are important during critical periods of life, especially earlier in life (e.g. adolescence). Looking just at phthalate exposure of postmenopausal women may be too late.

According to studies and the CDCalmost everyone in the United States is exposed to phthalates in varying degrees, especially by eating and drinking food and liquid that has come in contact with containers and products containing the chemicals, and by inhaling indoor air that has phthalates in the dust. Adult women tend to have higher exposure to certain phthalates (it's measured in the urine) that are used in soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and similar personal care products.  ...continue reading "Breast Cancer and Endocrine Disruptors"

The following is a really nice article about endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can interfere with the body's hormonal system). Journalist Hillary Brueck writes about where they are found (all around us!), some of the many negative health effects, and about NYU physician and researcher Dr. Leonardo Trasande and his new book: "Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future ... and What We Can Do About It." Also, some things we can do to lower our exposure to endocrine disruptors.

By the way, once again Europe is ahead of the US in dealing with this problem. Excerpts from Business Insider: A toxic-chemicals expert is sounding the alarm about 4 cancer-linked chemicals that could be making us sicker and fatter

Through the course of a single day, your hands, mouth, and body come in contact with countless pieces of paper, plastic, fabric, and furniture. You probably don't think about the chemicals these substances might harbor, or consider that they have a drug-like effect on health. But some do. They can make metabolisms slow down, subtly lower IQs, contribute to ADHD in children, and mess with sperm counts in men.

They're called "endocrine disruptors," and they're around us all the time. The chemicals change how our bodies work by shifting the way hormones operate, according to Leo Trasande, a pediatrician and public-health researcher at NYU Langone Health. "Hormones are the basic signaling molecules in our body that take on so many actions for practically every organ system," Trasande told Business Insider. "And endocrine disruptors are synthetic chemicals that scramble those signals, contributing to disease and disability."

In his new book, "Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Future ... and What We Can Do About It," Trasande lays out the four big categories of endocrine disruptors he's most concerned about, based on evidence from scientific studies and observations in his patients. They are: Bisphenols, like BPA, which are often found in the linings of aluminum-canned food and drinks and on cash-register receipts. Brominated flame retardants that are in some carpets, furniture, and clothing. Synthetic pesticides on food. "Plasticizer chemicals" called phthalates that show up in plastic food packaging, lotions, and cosmetics.  ...continue reading "New Book Warning Us About Endocrine Disruptors"

Once again research finds that endocrine disruptors are associated with health effects - this time with earlier puberty in girlsEndocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body's endocrine (or hormone) systems and can produce all sorts of negative health effects, including all sorts of reproductive problems in both males and females. Phthalates, parabens, and phenols (all used in common everyday products) are examples of endocrine disruptors.

The researchers asked the question: Is a baby's exposure before birth or exposure around the time of puberty (peripuberty) to phthalates, parabens, and phenols (which are found in personal care products) associated with the timing of when he or she starts puberty? In other words, does the mother's exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy have an effect on the fetus, which then has an effect years later on the child's puberty? And how about peripubertal exposure? The answer is a strong YES for girls, and minimal effect on boys (but boys did have earlier genital development with propyl paraben exposure).

What is scary is that almost all women (and men) are exposed to these chemicals - which can be measured in the urine. Studies find these chemicals in over 96% of American women. What to do?  One can't totally escape these chemicals, but one can really minimize exposure by reading labels and avoiding personal care products that list phthalates, parabens, phenols, as well as Triclosan (found in some anti-bacterial soaps). Avoid products that include "fragrances" or "scents" (those have a multitude of chemicals in them, including endocrine disruptors). Avoid air fresheners, dryer sheets, scented candles, room deodorizers, essential oils (lavender, tea tree oil). Buy "unscented" or "fragrance free" products.

The good news is that once a person avoids these chemicals, the levels in the body go down. So it's worth the effort minimizing exposure to them. By the way, animal studies find numerous reproductive effects from these chemicals, including timing of puberty. From Medical Xpress:

Chemicals in personal care and household products linked to earlier puberty in girls

Chemicals that are widely used in personal care and household products are linked to girls entering puberty at earlier ages, according to findings from a long-running study of mothers and children published today. The study in Human Reproduction, one of the world's leading reproductive medicine journals, found that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens and phenols were all associated with earlier puberty in girls, although there was no similar association observed in boys.   

...continue reading "Personal Care Products and Puberty"

The following article in a popular magazine follows up on research that came out last year about the alarming steep decline in male sperm counts and sperm concentration over the past few decades. This is true for the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and it is thought world wide. The article discusses the causes: environmental chemicals and plastics, especially those that are endocrine disruptors (they disrupt a person's hormones!). These chemicals are all around us, and we all have some in our bodies (but the amounts and types vary from person to person). Some examples of such chemicals are parabens, phthalates, BPA and BPA substitutes.

Even though there are effects from these chemicals throughout life, some of the worst effects from these chemicals seem to be during pregnancy - with a big effect on the developing male fetus. Testosterone levels in men are also droppingBottom line: males are becoming "less male", especially due to their exposure to all these chemicals when they are developing before birth (fetal exposure). Since it is getting worse with every generation of males, the concern is that soon males may be unable to father children because their sperm count will be too low - infertility. Dogs are experiencing the same decline in fertility!

Why isn't there more concern over this? What can we do? We all use and need plastic products, but we need to use safer chemicals in products, ones that won't mimic hormones and have endocrine disrupting effects. Remember, these chemicals have more effects on humans than just sperm quality (here and here). While you can't totally avoid plastics and endocrine disrupting chemicals, you can definitely lower your exposure. And it's most important before conception (levels of these chemicals in both parents), during pregnancy, and during childhood.

Do go read the whole article. Excerpts from Daniel Noah Halpern's article in GQ: Sperm Count Zero

A strange thing has happened to men over the past few decades: We’ve become increasingly infertile, so much so that within a generation we may lose the ability to reproduce entirely. What’s causing this mysterious drop in sperm counts—and is there any way to reverse it before it’s too late? 

Last summer a group of researchers from Hebrew University and Mount Sinai medical school published a study showing that sperm counts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past four decades. (They judged data from the rest of the world to be insufficient to draw conclusions from, but there are studies suggesting that the trend could be worldwide.) That is to say: We are producing half the sperm our grandfathers did. We are half as fertile.

The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero? 

I called Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the lead authors of the study, to ask if there was any good news hiding behind those brutal numbers. Were we really at risk of extinction? She failed to comfort me. “The What Does It Mean question means extrapolating beyond your data,” Swan said, “which is always a tricky thing. But you can ask, ‘What does it take? When is a species in danger? When is a species threatened?’ And we are definitely on that path.” That path, in its darkest reaches, leads to no more naturally conceived babies and potentially to no babies at all—and the final generation of Homo sapiens will roam the earth knowing they will be the last of their kind.

...continue reading "Will All Men Eventually Be Infertile?"

...continue reading "Can We Avoid the Endocrine Disruptors Around Us?"