A new cross-sectional study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives has found an association between fast food consumption and a higher level of exposure to phthalate and BPA
Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are widely used industrial chemicals that may adversely impact human health. High-molecular-weight phthalates, such as DEHP are used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials such as food packaging, flooring, and medical devices. In recent years, other phthalates, including DiNP have been replacing DEHP, due to legislation limiting the use of DEHP. Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and can be found in food and beverage cans as well as thermal receipt paper. Phthalates and BPA can leach, migrate, or off-gas from products and enter the human body orally, through breathing or through skin contact. In the body, these chemicals are quickly metabolized and excreted in urine.
Animal experiments hasve shown that DEHP and DiNP have anti-androgenic effects on the male reproductive system, while human exposure to DEHP has been associated with adverse reproductive, neurobehavioral, and respiratory outcomes in children, as well as insulin resistance in adolescents and adults. BPA is also a suspected endocrine disrupter, and a possible reproductive toxicant. In addition, prenatal BPA exposure has been associated with adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in children. Food is likely contaminated with phthalates and BPA during processing and foods high in fat, such as dairy and meat, may be more contaminated by DEHP. Fast food may be an important source of exposure to phthalates and BPA because it is highly processed, packaged, and handled.
In a recent paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a study group from The George Washington University investigated the associations between recent fast food intake and BPA and urinary metabolites of DEHP and DiNP among the US population. They obtained data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001-2010. The study sample included participants aged 6 and older who completed a 24-hour dietary recall survey and provided a urine sample for phthalate or BPA analysis. 8,877 participants were included for the DEHP analyses, 6,629 for the DiNP analyses and 8789 for the BPA analysis. The researchers obtained data containing the 24-hour intake of kilocalories and grams of fat in total and from fast food, and the kilocalories of fast food by food groups, such as dairy, eggs, grains, and meat.
Approximately one-third of the participants reported consuming fast food a day prior to their urine sample collection. Participants who ate fast food were more likely to be below the age of 40, male, non-Hispanic Black and have a higher total energy and total fat intake. Researchers determined that fast food consumers had higher levels of phthalate and BPA metabolites in their urine than non-consumers; however in case of BPA, the difference was not significant. They also observed a positive, dose-dependent association between fast food intake and phthalate metabolite concentration in urine. Participants with high fast food intake had 20-40% higher urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites than non-consumers. Fast food-derived fat intake was also significantly associated with the level of phthalate metabolites, but it seems that some DEHP contamination sources may be common to all high fat foods. There was a monotonic, dose-response association between fast food meat intake and BPA. The analysis of fast food consumption by food groups found that intake of grain items was significantly associated with DiNP and DEHP. The association between DiNP and fast food was observed in adolescents and adults, but not in children aged 6-11 years, potentially reflecting differences in exposure sources or behavior between groups.
Recently, another study published in Intensive Care Medicine has looked at the negative effects of phthalates and discovered that DELP exposure is linked to attention deficits and impaired motor coordination. Phthalates are banned in the United States in children’s toys, but they are still widely used in medical devices. Researchers measured DEHP derivatives in 100 healthy child controls and in 449 children admitted to paediatric intensive care after treatment in another facility. Average plasma concentrations of DEHP metabolites were very low in healthy children, but were 150 times higher in the hospitalized group. The children underwent neurocognitive testing four years after they were discharged from the intensive care unit and the results showed DEHP metabolites were significantly associated with attention deficit and with impaired motor coordination. Researchers suggest that phthalate usage in medical devices should be limited and existing alternative materials should be tested in a similar study.
Research suggests that both fast food consumption and medical devices may be a source of exposure to phthalates. Further research, which includes assessment of phthalate exposure before and after the consumption of fast foods is needed. This finding has a great public health significance given the legislation to limit exposure to phthalates due to concern over potential adverse health effects. It is extremely important to identify the possible sources of phthalate exposure in order to reduce their harmful health effects on both children and adults.
Written By: Dr. Fanni R. Eros