The chemicals in question are phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), and they’re everywhere - in plastic toys, detergents, food packaging, nail polish, perfumes, shampoos, hairspray and hundreds of other products. New research from Sweden suggests that routine, household exposure to these chemicals may double the risk of type 2 diabetes among seniors. Investigators at Sweden’s Uppsala University reviewed environmental and health data on more than 1,000 men and women, age 70, who were already part of a large Swedish health study. They then measured the seniors’ blood sugar, insulin levels and levels of residues from phthalate breakdown. The association between the phthalates and an increased risk of developing diabetes remained even after the researchers corrected for other possible contributing factors including cholesterol and triglycerides levels, body mass index, smoking, exercise and education. The Swedish team found that the risk of diabetes began to rise even when relatively low levels of phthalates were found in blood. The study was published online April 12, 2012 in Diabetes Care.
My take? Studies have linked phthalates to reproductive problems in lab animals, and some research has shown that they may have a connection to infertility in men. The European Union and other countries have banned phthalates in consumer products, and in 2007, California became the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of six specific phthalates in children's products and toys. It would be tough to identify all products containing phthalates in order to avoid them, but you can help lower your exposure by passing up products with ingredient lists that include mono-methyl phthalate (MMP), mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP).