We live in a world in which plastics are everywhere: in our water, food, and air; in our cars, furniture, homes, toys, electronic equipment, and more. A specific type of plastics known as phthalates are found in all of these things and more, including personal health items (deodorant, shampoo, perfume), as well as air fresheners, laundry detergent, household cleaning supplies, and nearly anything with a fragrance.
Phthalates and your heart
Around age 50, the risk of heart disease among women increases dramatically. Among the many factors that have a role in heart disease is exposure to phthalates.
In 2016, for example, a team of researchers noted that phthalates may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and that there was also evidence linking phthalates with atherosclerosis, hypertension, and arrhythmias. They also found that women who had a high level of phthalate metabolites had an increased risk of having hot flashes and had them more frequently. The phthalate exposure in this study was from personal care products.
In a 2017 study, researchers noted that phthalates have the ability to disrupt heart rate variability and other cardiovascular functions such as blood pressure. Now in a new study appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives (2021) has identified at least one mechanism that links exposure to phthalates to cardiovascular disease. The mechanism, known as dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP) is widely used.
In this latest study, which used mouse models, the authors point to the impact of DCHP on high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk. According to biomedical scientist Changcheng Zhou, one of the study’s authors, “Our results provide insights and new understandings of the impact of plastic-associated chemicals on high cholesterol—or dyslipidemia—and cardiovascular disease risk.”
Phthalates and menopause
One of the more common symptoms of menopause is insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Scientists have known that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol are associated with sleep among women in midlife, but the impact of phthalates on sleep has been unknown until now. Based on findings from the Midlife Women’s Health Study appearing in Menopause, researchers reported that along with FSH and estradiol, phthalates exposure has a negative impact on sleep among women in menopause.
Unwanted weight gain is another common symptom of menopause. A number of studies have looked at the impact of phthalates on obesity and obesity-related disorders. One example is a 2021 German study in which the authors noted the impact of phthalate-based plasticizers and bisphenol A (BPA) on the spread of obesity.
How to avoid phthalates (the best you can)
Plastics and phthalates are everywhere, so avoiding them completely is virtually impossible. However, you can reduce your exposure, and here are some tips:
- Avoid using personal-care items and household cleaning items that contain fragrances.
- Store food and beverages in glass containers instead of plastic containers or plastic wrap.
- Check labels on cosmetics and don’t use those that contain phthalates.
- Avoid using any items that contain fragrances, including personal care products, household cleaning items, and air fresheners.
- Do not give your children plastic toys.
- Never microwave food or beverages in plastic containers or plastic wrap.
- Avoid food packaging as much as possible. You can do this by purchasing mostly fresh, whole foods.
- Vacuum furniture, flooring, vinyl blinds, and wallpaper frequently, as phthalates can collect in the dust.
- Use cloth bags when shopping at the store for products. Leave the plastic bags behind!
- Do not buy bottled water. Instead, bring your own water from home in glass or stainless steel bottles and your own coffee mug to coffee shops.
Phthalates are ubiquitous in our environment and have an impact on heart health, menopause, and our health in general. Take steps to reduce your exposure to these chemicals whenever possible.