Household Hormonal Danger

An everyday chemical in many cosmetics, supplements, medicines, laundry soaps and air fresheners may be lowering your testosterone, disrupting your thyroid, making you vulnerable to diabetes and adding inches to your waistline. You can and should reduce your exposure to this chemical today before you become another one of its victims.

Research shows that a family of chemicals called phthalates is responsible for a whole host of health problems that besiege Americans. These chemicals are used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic products to keep them durable and flexible. They are also used in household products with synthetic fragrances like cosmetics, lotions and shampoos to help disperse their scents. Plus, phthalates called dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) are included as inactive ingredients in some medications and dietary supplements. They are used to slow absorption and make these pills and capsules “time release” their ingredients into the intestinal tract.

Reproduction Questions

A large body of research has indicated that exposure to phthalates is connected to the reduction of testosterone in men. Studies also show that these chemicals may be linked to extra inches around the waistline, insulin resistance and an increased risk for diabetes.

“Substantial declines in testosterone levels and sperm quality have been observed in the United States and other countries over the last several decades and it urgently requires explanation. While we can’t say yet that phthalates are a definite cause, I am certain they are on the list of chemicals that demands careful study,” notes researcher Richard Stahlhut, a preventive medicine resident at the University of Rochester.

In Stahlhut’s research, men who had the highest exposure to phthalates had more belly fat and insulin resistance than other men.

Studies on the effects of phthalates on women come up with similar results. When researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looked at the phthalates in the urine of more than 2,300 women, they found that:

  • Women with the highest levels of the chemicals mono-benzyl phthalate and mono-isobutyl phthalate had almost double the risk of diabetes compared to women with the lowest levels of those chemicals.
  • Women with higher than median levels of the chemical mono-(3-carboxypropyl) phthalate experienced approximately a 60 percent increased risk of diabetes.
  • Women with moderately high levels of the chemicals mono-n-butyl phthalate and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate suffered approximately a 70 percent increased risk of diabetes.

Thyroid Disruption

Phthalates also interfere with the vital functions of the thyroid. When researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the blood and urine of more than 1,300 adults and 300 adolescents, they found that greater concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites (as well as BPA, another chemical in plastics) were associated with greater impacts on serum thyroid measurements.

One study showed the strongest relationship between thyroid disruption and DEHP, a phthalate commonly used as a plasticizer. Other studies have shown that most of the DEHP we absorb is in the form of pollutants in our food. Urine samples showing the highest 20 percent of exposure to DEHP was associated with as much as a 10 percent decrease in certain thyroid hormones compared to urine samples at the lowest 20 percent of exposure.

Reduce Your Exposure To Phthalates

While you may not be able to avoid all exposure to phthalates, you can significantly reduce the presence of these chemicals in your personal environment:

  • Avoid taking medications or supplements that list the ingredients dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP). These may also be ingredients in perfumes, nail polish, lotions, hair treatments, shampoo, deodorants and cologne.
  • Watch out for BzBp (benzylbutyl phthalate), which may be an ingredient in cosmetics, flooring and other plastic products.
  • Avoid insect repellents that list DMP (dimethyl phthalate) as an ingredient.
  • Use unscented, hypoallergenic cosmetics and personal-care products. Any product that lists the words “fragrance” or “parfum” on the package may contain phthalates.
  • Instead of a plastic shower curtain, use a cloth one made of cotton or another fabric that you can wash and reuse.
  • Store refrigerated food in glass — not plastic.
  • Don’t use plastic food containers in the microwave. The high temperatures may cause chemicals from the plastic to migrate to your food.
  • Do not use air fresheners unless they incorporate pure essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances.
  • Use unscented laundry soap.
  • Other ingredients to avoid include: Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, dioctyl phthalate (DOP), and dimethyl phthalate (DMP).

Unfortunately, phthalates are part of the ocean of chemicals that surround us in daily life. And recent studies even link these chemicals to asthma. So if you want to breathe a little easier and lower your risk of many of the illnesses that modern flesh is heir to, avoid these toxins as much as you can.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.