Phthalates May Harm Mental Development and Soften Bones

Yep – phthalates are in the headlines again.  This time with even more damning evidence in two recently released studies.

Bone Plasticizers?

Environmental Health News (EHN) discussed a study published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry in which phthalates were found to provoke DNA damage that can lead to bone cell death in mouse cells.  According to the researchers, it is probable that chronic exposure to phthalates at low concentrations will affect new bone formation with implications on bone homeostasis and mineral density.

EHN explains the roll of estrogen-mimicking phthalates:

This study shows how a low-dose exposure to two types of commonly found phthalates has a profound effect on bone cells. Based on the results, long-term exposure to phthalates could have devastating effects on developing bones in young bodies and accelerate deterioration in aging bones.  Estrogen deficiency is responsible for a number of bone diseases such as osteoporosis.  For this reason, many are concerned about the effects of phthalate exposure on bone health.

It's amazing to think that plasticizers are capable of working to soften bones the same way they soften plastic!

Girls with Decreased Mental Development?

To further condemn phthalates, Simple Steps (a resource of NRDC) reviewed a study by researchers at Mount Sinai Children’s Medical Health Center.  They found that newborn girls whose mothers have high levels of phthalates contained in plastics show markedly lower levels of attention and alertness than newborn boys of similar mothers.

Significantly, this is one of the first studies to look at the effects of phthalates on infant girls. These chemicals have already been associated with altered male genital development, damage to DNA in sperm and decreased sperm quality.  One cause for the altered behavior may be phthalate-related low thyroid levels in the mother and the effects of phthalates on thyroid levels have been documented. Because the mother supplies all of the fetus thyroid hormones during the first half of pregnancy when brain development is in its initial phases, low thyroid levels at this point can be very harmful.

Simple Steps recommends the following actions to avoid the damaging effects of phthalates:

  • Avoid buying plastics that may be treated with phthalates, including vinyl toys, shower curtains, gloves or other products. Look for “PVC”, “V” or  the“3” recycling code on the object or its packaging.
  • If you have vinyl tiling in your home, damp mop regularly since phthalates bind to dust on the floor.  Direct sunlight on vinyl tiles causes it to release phthalates more quickly so put lower blinds on windows that shine directly on flooring. Finally, if you’re already considering replacing the flooring, choose non-vinyl options such as cork, linoleum, wood or stone.
  • Toys with the worst phthalates should already be off the shelves, but check to see if toys you already own have them.
  • Look for products that don’t include fragrance in their ingredients.
  • When buying cosmetics, purchase from companies that have pledged not use phthalates.
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