Now that we have our new website up and running we have decided to do a series of videos or vlogs as a gift back to our patients. So, for everyone with kids, for our new patients who are either general health patients or fertility patients – this is for you. Today we want to share with you a little of the growing information about a group of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis that may be harming you, your kids or even more worryingly if you are pregnant – your unborn babies. These chemicals are called phthalates.
There is a growing movement of scientists, health practitioners and children’s health advocates calling for greater attention to the increasing evidence that many common and widely available chemicals endanger the health of foetuses and children of all ages. These chemicals affect everyone, at all stages of life.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastic to make it more soft and malleable. They are often known as plasticisers. Phthalates are also in personal care products to help the smell stick. Ever noticed that you can still smell the hand soap you used a few hours later??
The problem is that phthalates are known endocrine disruptors.
This is one term we want you to get familiar with. Endocrine disruptor. Sadly, you are going to see it more and more in the media and on the news as it is of growing concern. The endocrine system is simply your hormonal system in the body. It is involved with growth, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood, among other things. The endocrine system involves the thyroid glands, the adrenal glands, the pancreas, the ovaries, the testicles – it is the big hormonal controller of the body. So, an endocrine disruptor is something that interferes with your hormones.
Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors.
Phthalates have been shown to possess oestrogenic activity and display anti-androgenic effects. Think about that, they increase oestrogen and have a negative impact on testosterone.
One big area of concern is that phthalates act as anti-androgens, that is, they reduce testosterone levels in the body. Studies have found increasing incidence of reduced sperm production, undescended testes, hypospadias and decreased testosterone production. Just to put you in the picture, hypospadias is when the opening of the penis (the urethral opening, the place a male wees or ejaculates from) is not in the normal place at the end of the penis. Instead, it can be anywhere along the shaft of the penis or even in the scrotum. The only treatment is surgical correction and it can create quite a few issues as you can imagine.
Studies have shown in both the US and Europe that the incidence of hypospadias is increasing; a report in the US showed a doubling of incidence. There is also an increase of the severity of the condition, not just milder forms of the condition. Endocrine disruptors are thought to be one of the main causes of the increase incidence of this condition.
In the past few years, researchers have linked phthalates to:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Breast cancer
- Type II diabetes
- Low IQ
- Neurodevelopmental issues
- Behavioural issues
- Thyroid disorders
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Altered reproductive development and male fertility issues
Now that is pretty scary. We can measure phthalate levels in the urine and the results speak for themselves. Phthalate exposure is a wide spread problem, affecting everything from increasing cancer risk, to behavioural and learning issues in our young, to growing issues with fertility.
Phthalates get into our body in three main ways:
1) We breathe them in – think of the smell when you spray perfume, hairspray, room fresheners etc.
2) We ingest or eat them – think of unwrapping a sandwich wrapped up in plastic food wrap, think of storing food in plastic or getting take away wrapped in plastic or in plastic containers – they are all sources of phthalates entering our body.
3) We absorb them through our skin – think of slathering yourself in fake tan, moisturisers, most sunscreens etc. Covered top-to-toe in chemicals known to cause damage to your hormonal system.
Phthalates are found in most personal care products as they help adhere smell to the skin. They are in most shower gels, hand washes, perfumes, after shaves, moisturisers, hairsprays, deodorants, make up and nail polish. They are used in household products like shower curtains, synthetic leather products, plastic rain coats for kids, baby toys, vinyl floor coverings, they are in most food packaging, takeaway food containers, cups etc.
The great news is that we can get rid of phthalates out of the body and they have a short half-life, which means they don’t hang around. The health problems phthalates cause is because we are exposed to them continually, so although the body is working to break them down and get rid of them, the average person is unknowingly rapidly putting them back in their body. This is where knowledge is power. If you know how to reduce or avoid phthalates, then you start winning.
So, how can you reduce your exposure?
Firstly, reduce your plastic exposure: stop drinking out of plastic water bottles, stop storing your food in plastic and stop sending your kids off to school with food wrapped in plastic, in a plastic lunch box! There are so many great stainless-steel options that means you never need to use plastic wrap again!
Secondly – look at the personal care products used at home. Perfumes, aftershaves, hand gels, shower gels, so many body care products are laden with phthalates. Companies don’t have to list phthalates on the ingredients, so you need to see that it is marked ‘phthalate-free’. We have a new Resources section on our website which will make it easier to access safer personal care products for you and your family.
Lastly, keep your windows open. Indoor air quality is thought to be a big contributor to health problems. Whether it is the chemical load of all of the air fresheners, the perfumes, hairsprays etc sprayed in the morning or the off gassing of new flooring, the shower curtain etc, indoor air quality can result in a high level of inhaled phthalates. Keeping your house well ventilated and vacuuming up dust goes a long way to minimising phthalate load.
Three simple steps and you can markedly reduce the phthalate level in your body and if you have children, in your beautiful growing children’s bodies. Governments around the world are banning specific phthalates in certain products, however it’s a slow process. The great news is, now you know more about these endocrine disrupting chemicals you can be more in control as to your level of exposure.