Phthalates: Study links chemicals widely found in plastics, processed food to elevated blood pressure in children, teens

Plastic additives known as phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are odorless, colorless and just about everywhere: They turn up in flooring, plastic cups, beach balls, plastic wrap, intravenous tubing and—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the bodies of most Americans. Once perceived as harmless, phthalates have come under increasing scrutiny. A growing collection of evidence suggests dietary exposure to phthalates (which can leech from packaging and mix with food) may cause significant metabolic and hormonal abnormalities, especially during early development.

Now, new research published this Wednesday in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that certain types of phthalates could pose another risk to children: compromised heart health. Drawing on data from a nationally representative survey of nearly 3,000 children and teens, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine, have documented for the first time a connection between dietary exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate), a common class of phthalate widely used in industrial food production, and elevated systolic blood pressure, a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.

"Phthalates can inhibit the function of and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries. But no one has explored the relationship between and in children" says lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, associate professor of pediatrics, and at NYU Langone Medical Center. "We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to in early development of disease."

Hypertension is clinically defined as a reading above 140 mm Hg. It's most common in people over 50 years old, although the condition is becoming increasingly prevalent among children owing to the global obesity epidemic. Recent national surveys indicate that 14 percent of American adolescents now have pre-hypertension or hypertension. "Obesity is driving the trend but our findings suggest that environmental factors may also be a part of the problem," says Dr. Trasande. "This is important because phthalate exposure can be controlled through regulatory and behavioral interventions."

Researchers from NYU School of Medicine, the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine examined six years of data from a nationally representative survey of the U.S. population administered by the National Centers for Health Statistics of the . Phthalates were measured in urine samples using standard analysis techniques. Controlling for a number of potential confounders, including race, socioeconomic status, body mass index, caloric intake and activity levels, the researchers found that every three-fold increase in the level of breakdown products of DEHP in urine correlated with a roughly one-millimeter mercury increase in a child's blood pressure. "That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially," says Dr. Trasande. "Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioral interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health."

Related Stories

Researchers find industrial chemicals in food samples

date Mar 07, 2013

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have discovered phthalates, industrial chemicals, in common foods purchased in the United States. Phthalates can be found in a variety of ...

BPA linked to potential adverse effects on heart and kidneys

date Jan 09, 2013

Exposure to a chemical once used widely in plastic bottles and still found in aluminum cans appears to be associated with a biomarker for higher risk of heart and kidney disease in children and adolescents, according to an ...

Recommended for you

Are our schools damaging children's eyes?

date Mar 24, 2015

Shockingly, research has shown a dramatic increase in the number of students leaving secondary school with short-sightedness, or myopia, and a new study published in the Journal Perspectives in Public Health, published by SAG ...

Vitamin D vital for gene expression in developing brains

date Mar 24, 2015

Vitamin D deficiency in mothers leading up to and during pregnancy has fundamental consequences for their offspring's brain development, researchers from University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids ...

Chef-enhanced school meals increase healthy food consumption

date Mar 23, 2015

Schools collaborating with a professionally trained chef to improve the taste of healthy meals significantly increased students' fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ian_j_allen
May 22, 2013
Yet another in the long list of reasons to avoid processed "food". I've got a simple rule: If I wouldnt eat it out of the jar in my lab, I'm certainly not going to be adding it to my food.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.