According to the CDC, nearly 26 million, or 11% of all Americans over 20 years old are affected by diabetes. This endocrine disease, characterized by issues with insulin production and resistance was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States in 2015 based on 79,535 cases where diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death. But did you know that your plastic storage containers, cosmetics, and even vinyl flooring could double your risk of developing type 2 diabetes?
We live in a world of toxins, surrounded continuously by invisible manufactured chemicals that affect our health and well-being. Though they have long been studied in relation to various health issues, recent research suggests that phthalates may be even more detrimental than previously thought.
Phthalates refer to a group of chemicals found in many everyday products including (but not limited to) medical supplies, plastics, food storage, perfumes, scented candles, and various adhesives. These chemicals are added to make plastics more flexible and stabilize colors and fragrances. Recent research, led by Harvard scientists, has discovered an important link between high levels of phthalates in the body and susceptibility for diabetes genesis.
According to the 2017 National Diabetes Statistics report 87.5% of adults aged 18 or older who experienced type 2 diabetes were overweight or obese. Of course, the connection between obesity and inactivity and diabetes has long been an accepted fact. However, the disparity among the numbers shows that there must be another risk factor that is contributing to the development of this disease. Researchers claim that the presence of phthalates may be the missing link, as it is estimated that more than 75% of all Americans have these chemicals present in their bodies.
It is important to remember that not all phthalates equate the same risk factor in regards to diabetes. According to a report published in Environmental Health Perspectives, some phthalates such as dibutyl phthalates (DBP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) are responsible for doubling the rate of diabetes in women who had high levels of phthalate markers in their urine compared to those with the lowest levels. These particular phthalates are used in lacquer finishes, adhesives, vinyl flooring, sealants, and caulks.
Of course, more research is needed in this area to confirm the direct correlation of phthalate exposure to diabetes risk. Though many studies are being conducted to solidify the link, it can be difficult to isolate environmental and lifestyle factors for a clean test group.
“This is an important first step in exploring the connection between phthalates and diabetes,” Tamarra James-Todd, author of the Environmental Health Perspectives Report stated in a news release. “We know that in addition to being present in personal care products, phthalates also exist in certain types of medical devices and medication that is used to treat diabetes and this could also explain the higher level of phthalates in diabetic women. So overall, more research is needed.”
So how can you avoid phthalates?
Unfortunately, with the current standards in the plastic production industry and the prevalence of phthalates in every area of life, it is almost impossible to avoid these chemicals entirely. However, there are a few steps you can take to limit your exposure and protect yourself and your family.
Sustainable food choices
This is a great motivation to make the transition to a more sustainable, whole foods diet. Begin by limiting the amount of processed food you purchase and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Start shopping locally for foods such as honey that often come in plastic containers.
Change your method of storage
Though it is easiest to simply whip out a plastic bag to store those leftovers in, there are other ways that you can preserve your food and keep it fresh until you are ready to eat it. Try sustainable food storage such as reusable beeswax food wraps, or glass containers. It is also essential that you avoid heating any food in plastic containers as this encourages the release of chemicals into your meal.
Personal care products
Many personal care products that are heavily fragranced usually have high levels of phthalates. Try switching to products that are labeled as “phthalate-free” or simply seek “fragrance-free” options. Better yet, try making your own hand soap and lotion with organic, locally sourced ingredients.
Household cleaning products
There are many reasons to cut out your use of chemical-laden cleaning products in the home, including phthalates. They are especially prevalent in laundry detergent, air freshener, and other fragrant products. Switch to pure Castille soap, baking soda, and vinegar as your cleaning tools of choice and use lemon or lavender essential oil to boost the scent.