Two compounds used in manufacturing to strengthen plastic wrap, and containers for soap, cosmetics, and processed food is linked to a raised risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in children and adolescents, new research shows.

The chemicals, di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), belong to a class of chemicals known as phthalates. In a strange twist of fate, the two chemicals were used as replacements for another chemical, di-2-ethylhexylphlatate, or DEHP, which the same researchers proved in earlier research to have similar adverse effects.

Lead investigator Leonardo Trasande, of NYU Langone Medical Center, says:

“Our research adds to growing concerns that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, and other metabolic disorders.”

Trasande adds the series of studies are thought to be the first to look at potential health risks from DEHP replacements.

The most recent study reports a “significant association” between high blood pressure and the presence of DINP and DIDP in study subjects. For every ten times increase in the amount of phthalates consumed, there was a 1.1 millimeters blood pressure increase.

In the earlier of the two studies, the same researchers found a link between DINP and DIDP concentrations and increased insulin resistance, a diabetes precursor. One out of three adolescents with the highest DINP levels had the highest insulin resistance. For those with the lowest concentrations of the chemicals, only one in four had insulin resistance.

DEHP, the original chemical used as a plasticizer, was banned in 2004 in Europe when researchers found a link between exposure to the plasticizer and detrimental effects on human health. In the US, manufacturers began to replace DEHP voluntarily, with DINP and DIDP, over the last decade.

“Alternatives to DIDP and DINP include wax paper and aluminum wrap; indeed, a dietary intervention that introduced fresh foods that were not canned or packaged in plastic reduced phthalate metabolites substantially,” says Trasande.

Trasande highlights that there are “safe and simple” steps families can take to limit exposure to phthalates. These include:

  • not microwaving food in plastic containers or covered by plastic wrap

  • washing plastic food containers by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher, where harsh chemicals can lead to increased leaching of plasticizers into food

  • avoiding use of plastic containers labeled on the bottom with the numbers 3, 6, or 7 inside the recycle symbol, in which chemicals such as phthalates are used

“Our study adds further concern for the need to test chemicals for toxicity prior to their broad and widespread use, which is not required under current federal law, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act,” he says.

Association of Exposure to Di-2-Ethylhexylphthalate Replacements With Increased Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents Leonardo Trasande, Teresa M. Attina Hypertension. 2015; 66: 301-308 doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.115.05603

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