Phthalates in cosmetics and plastics could double risk of diabetes
15 April 2012
Research at Uppsala University has found that phthalates, which are added to cosmetics and plastics, increase the risk of developing diabetes among seniors, with even a modest increase in phthalate levels in the blood doubling the risk.
“Although our results need to be confirmed in more studies, they do support the hypothesis that certain environmental chemicals can contribute to the development of diabetes,” says Monica Lind, associate professor of environmental medicine at the Section for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Uppsala University.
The PIVUS study examined more than 1,000 70-year-old women and men in Uppsala. Participants were examined for fasting blood sugar and various insulin measures. They submitted blood samples for analysis of various environmental toxins, including several substances formed when the body breaks down phthalates. Most people come into daily contact with phthalates as they are used a softening agents in plastics and as carriers of perfumes in cosmetics and self-care products.
As expected, diabetes was more common among participants who were overweight and had high blood lipids. But the researchers also found a connection between blood levels of some of the phthalates and increased prevalence of diabetes, even after adjusting for obesity, blood lipids, smoking, and exercise habits.
Individuals with elevated phthalate levels had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared with those with lower levels. They also found that certain phthalates were associated with disrupted insulin production in the pancreas.
“However, to find out whether phthalates truly are risk factors for diabetes, further studies are needed that show similar associations. Today, besides the present study, there is only one small study of Mexican women. But experimental studies on animals and cells are also needed regarding what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections,” says Monica Lind.
Monica Lind, Björn Zethelius, and Lars Lind. Circulating levels of phthalate metabolites are associated with prevalent diabetes in the elderly, Diabetes Care. doi: 10.2337/DC11-2396
Facts about phthalates
Mono-methyl phthalate (MMP), Mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP) are all metabolites of the chemicals dimethylphthalate (DMP), Diethyl phthalate (DEP) and Di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), respectively, and are used in, among other things, cosmetics, self-care products, solid air fresheners, and scented candles. DMP is also used in ink and as a softening agent in cellulose plastics.