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Phthalates May Double Diabetes Risk

Common Household Chemicals May Increase Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
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April 12, 2012 -- Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates), those common chemicals found in cosmetics, scented candles, and plastics, may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies of phthalates have mainly focused on how they affect reproductive health and child development. These chemicals are believed to act as endocrine disrupters in the body, meaning they may have an impact on sex hormones.

The new study, however, looks at their potential health effects among people over age 65.

Critics of the new study are quick to point out that it does not show that exposure to these chemicals causes diabetes in any way, shape, or form. The study just shows an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

Researchers measured fasting blood sugar (when a person has not eaten for at least eight hours) and other factors associated with the hormone insulin in more than 1,000 70-year-old women and men from Uppsala, Sweden. Their blood was also analyzed for evidence of environmental toxins, including several substances formed when the body breaks down phthalates.

Diabetes Risk Doubles in the Presence of Phthalates

Overall, diabetes was more common among participants who were overweight and had high blood cholesterol levels. That said, risk was also elevated among those who had higher blood levels of some of the phthalates.

According to the new study, individuals with higher phthalate levels had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared to those with lower levels.

"There is a connection between phthalates found in cosmetics and plastics and the risk of developing diabetes among seniors," says researcher P. Monica Lind, PhD, via email. Lind is an associate professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Uppsala University in Sweden. "Even at relatively low levels of phthalate metabolites in the blood, the risk of getting diabetes begins to rise."

Exactly how, or even if, phthalates may increase diabetes risk is not known. "Further studies are needed that show similar associations," Lind says. "Experimental studies are also needed regarding what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections." One theory is that phthalates may interact with important players in the fat metabolism process.

The findings appearinDiabetes Care.

It is hard -- if not impossible -- to avoid phthalates. Most people come into daily contact with them, as they are used as softening agents in everyday plastics and as carriers of perfumes in cosmetics and self-care products. "The implications of our findings must be to cut down on plastics, and choose self-care products without perfumes," Lind says in an email.

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