High blood pressure is on the rise in kids. The new culprit, phthalates, a chemical found in a wide variety of products that make plastics softer and more flexible, may be one of the causes. Phthalates are found in beach balls, flooring, food packaging, plastic wraps, intravenous tubing – and, according to the Centers for Disease Control ad Prevention – most Americans. The last place noted is a problem, says Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at New York University Langone Medical Center.
“The type of phthalates creating the health issues, a variety called DEHP [Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate], enter the body through food. DEHP, in particular, appears to cause reactive oxygen stress, which is what we see in the inflammation,” said Dr. Trasande. Trasande was lead author of a recent NYU medical school study that found that dietary exposure to phthalates (which pass from the packaging into the food) may be contributing to the increase in high blood pressure among American youth. “Clearly diet and inactivity are the main causes of the epidemic of high blood pressure among children but increasingly we’re finding that environmental chemicals may be independent contributors,” he added.
Phthalates are also known to be endocrine-disrupters, chemicals that can interfere with the hormone system. “We need longer-term population studies to examine and better understand the effects of these environmental chemicals, but previous studies have already suggested that phthalates may be associated with changes in body mass, as well as impacts on puberty,” said Dr. Trasande.
How does phthalates affect adults? That was not part of the study and the effect on adults is unknown at this time.
What steps should be taken to protect our children? An article by Beth Lewis and released on grandparents.com shared these suggestions which have been paraphrased below.
• Look at the recycling codes on plastic containers: Recycling code 3 contains phthalates; code 7 contains BPA. Codes 1, 2, 4 and 5 are okay.
• Do not microwave food while in plastic containers: Use glass or microwave-safe porcelain instead as the chemicals from the plastic seep into the food when microwaved.
• Do not store food in plastic: Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel instead.
• Do not put hot or boiling liquid into plastic storage containers: This also causes a faster release of phthalates.
• Prevention is always the best practice: Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit – and less packaged, processed foods. If the vegetables and fruit are in plastic bags, look for recycling code 2. Most are safe.