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High levels of harmful chemical phthalates detected in people who eat fast food


A new research has detected higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates among people who eat fast food regularly.

The two phthalates involved here are di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate also known as DEHP and diisononyl phthalate or DiNP. These chemicals can be found in a wide variety of machineries that package and process food products and the industries use them to make plastics flexible.

The U.S. Congress has banned the use of these phthalates in children’s soothers, toys baby bottles. The chemicals have also been found to be involved in causing childhood behavioral problems, birth defects and chronic illnesses in children, such as asthma.


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These chemicals can even be picked up from the vinyl gloves worn by restaurant workers.

Previous studies have suggested that these chemicals leach out of plastic food packaging, causing contamination of highly processed foods. These can even be picked up from the vinyl gloves worn by restaurant workers.

Ami Zota, study author and an assistant professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, DC, led the first of its kind research to investigate the relationship between fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals.

They reviewed data on 8,877 adults taking part in a regular survey on nutrition and health conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants were given a questionnaire and their urinary samples were collected.

The subjects answered detailed questions on what food they had eaten, including fast food, in the last 24 hours.

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Urinary samples of the participants were tested to see if they contained the breakdown products of two phthalates: di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) and di-2-ethylhexylphlatate (DEHP).

Researchers found that higher the amount of fast food an individual reported eating, the higher their exposure to harmful chemicals phthalates.

Compared with those who had not eaten fast food, the urine samples of participants who ate the most fast food had 23.8% higher levels of the DEHP breakdown product, and 40% higher levels of DiNP metabolites.

Meats and grains such as bread, pizza, cake, rice dishes, burritos and noodles, most notably caused phthalate exposure, according to the study. (Image: Creative commons)

Grains and meats most notably caused phthalate exposure, according to the study. Grains include a wide array of items, like bread, pizza, cake, rice dishes, burritos and noodles.

Another chemical – Bisphenol A (BPA) – used in plastic food packaging, has been linked with health and behavioral problems, especially among young children. The team also looked for signs of BPA among their participants.

No link was found between total consumption of fast-food and BPA, but those who consumed fast-food meat products had higher BPA levels compared to those who had not eaten fast food.

According to Prof. Zota, people who consumed the highest amount of fast food had up to 40% higher levels of phthalate. This is especially alarming because phthalates have been connected to a range of serious illnesses in children and adults.


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There is also evidence that DEHP and DiNP leach out of products and into the body, potentially causing problems for the reproductive system, including infertility.

Researchers cautioned that pregnant mothers should limit or stop consuming fast food to prevent phthalates from influencing fetal development.

Meanwhile, Prof. Zota suggests avoiding regular consumption of fast foods because of the amounts of fat, salt and calories that they contain.

She adds that the benefits of eating whole foods go far beyond the question of phthalates.

The research was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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Salahuddin Ahmed is a freelance medical writer and blogger, who has been writing about medicine and health for more than a decade. A former New York transplant, he now lives in his native Dhaka. He received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana and a diploma on eTechnology from NIIT, Dhaka. A voracious eater, Salahuddin only dines at restaurants that offer free refills on rice.

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