BPA isn’t the only ingredient under siege when it comes to children’s health. Chemicals called phthalates are also highly scrutinized. Exposure to phthalates, which are found in everything from PVC pipes to perfumes to nail polish, has been linked to medical problems in infants and children including allergies, asthma and ADHD. The growing body of evidence against phthalates prompted the European Union, Canada and the US to ban the use of them in children’s toys.
However, these bans may not be cutting exposure as dramatically as lawmakers hoped, because studies suggest infants are exposed to phthalates though their use in baby care products. Scientists found strong positive correlations between urine phthalate concentrations and the use of infant lotions, powders and shampoos.
The mother’s personal care regime may be to blame as well. The more personal care products a woman uses, the higher her phthalate levels, and increased levels in pregnant women are linked to low birth weight and developmental issues.
Although the heart of the debate has focused on how dangerous endocrine disruptors are to children and infants, the case for their dangers to grown-ups has been building. Since these ingredients can act like estrogen in the body, they have the potential to have serious side effects, even in adults.
Hormones don’t just control development; they’re also tied to our weight, muscle building ability, skin condition and immune system. It’s no wonder that endocrine disrupters have been linked to adult health conditions. Phthalates are associated with lower testosterone levels, increased waist circumference and type II diabetes in men, while bisphenol A is associated with cardiovascular disease and weight gain in both women and men.
Hormone-mimics are also blamed for the onset or exacerbation of a number of cancers, especially breast cancer. Many of the endocrine disruptors in personal care products, including BPA, phthalates and another group of anti-microbial agents called parabens, have been found in breast cancer tissues, and lab research has supported the hypothesis that exposure to them may contribute to breast cancer risk. Similarly, endocrine disruptors are suspected as possible risk factors for neurodegenerative disorders, including cognitive decline, memory loss and Parkinson’s disease.
But that’s not to say that all of these ingredients should be seen as serious threats.
“One of the issues about phthalates that people don’t necessarily understand is they are a family of chemicals,” explains Dr. Susan Teitelbaum, an associate professor from The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Different phthalates have been shown to have different biological activities.” Some phthalates appear to have no adverse affects, and in a recent study of Mexican women, some were even associated with reduced breast cancer risk. By broadly grouping all of these compounds together, we may demonize those that are less harmful.
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