Study links chemicals in everyday consumer products to chronic disease in men

NEW Australian research has found a link between exposure to everyday chemicals and a range of health problems in men, including cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Carried out by researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), the investigation looked into a possible association between chronic diseases among men and levels of phthalates.

Phthalates are a group of potentially harmful chemicals widely used in everyday consumer products, such as food packaging and wrappings, toys, medications, and even medical devices.

To explore phthalate exposure for the first time among Australian males, the team collected urine samples from 1504 men aged 39-84 years old, and assessed chronic diseases using self-reported questionnaires or standardized clinical and laboratory procedures.

The researchers found phthalates in 99.6% of the samples, and a positive association between the phthalate level and cardiovascular disease, type-2-diabetes, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

There was no significant association between phthalate levels and asthma and depression.

Commenting on the findings, senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi said, "While we still don't understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body's growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function."

"In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body," he added.

Previous research has also found that the western diet, as well as age, is directly associated with higher concentrations of phthalates, with research showing that men who ate less fresh fruit and vegetables and consumed more processed and packaged foods and carbonated soft drinks have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.

Associate Professor Shi also pointed out that while 82% of the men in the study were overweight or obese – factors known to increase the risk of chronic diseases – the significant association between high levels of phthalates and disease was not substantially altered even after taking into account the body weight of the men.

The team also adjusted their findings for socio-economic and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol, and once again found the association between high levels of phthalates and disease still held true.

Although the study only looked at an association in men, Associate Professor Shi commented that the findings are also likely to be applicable to women, adding that, "While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease."

The results can be found published online in the international journal Environmental Research. — AFP Relaxnews