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High levels of phthalates linked to risk of type-2 diabetes

By Simon Pitman , 12-Apr-2012
Last updated on 12-Apr-2012 at 17:36 GMT

A new study suggests that there is a link between phthalates, used in a number of cosmetic products as well as plastic packaging, and type-2 diabetes.

A team of scientists at Uppsala University in Sweden has published the results of research it has conducted in the journal Diabetes Care showing that even at a modest increase in circulating phthalate levels, the risk of developing diabetes is doubled.

“Although our results need to be confirmed in more studies,  they do support the hypothesis that certain environmental chemicals can contribute to the development of diabetes,” said Monica Lind, associate professor of environmental medicine at the Section for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Uppsala University.

The results of the scientists' study and its conclusion have been based on new information drawn from the university’s PIVUS study, which took into consideration data from over 1,000 male and female volunteers aged 70.

Over 1,000 volunteers tested for phthalate levels in the blood

The volunteers had their blood tested for fasting blood sugar and various insulin measures, as well as conducting analysis for various environmental toxins, which included several substances that are formed when the body has to break down phthalates.

The scientists noted during the research that they believe most people come into daily contact with phthalates, which are used as a softener for plastics commonly used in a variety of plastic packaging, including some used for cosmetic products, as well as a variety of formulations, including nail varnish deodorants and certain fragrances.

While the study points out that the occurrence of diabetes was far more common in the volunteers that were overweight and with high blood lipids, the researchers say they also found a connection between blood levels of some of the phthalates and increased prevalence of diabetes.

Connections between phthalates and diabetes was a constant

The authors also point out that the connection between the phthalate levels and diabetes remained evident, even after factoring in obesity levels and blood lipids, together with accounting for personal habits such as smoking and the rate of exercise.

From the study, Lind and her team conclude that individuals with elevated levels of phthalates in their blood had around twice the risk of developing diabetes compared with individuals who tested with lower rates of phthalates.

Likewise, the study also points out that specific phthalates were associated with disrupted insulin production in the pancreas.

The scientists say that to truly define whether or not phthalates are a risk factor in diabetes, further research will have to be conducted to confirm the associations, which should include studies on both animals and cells.

Research linking phthalates to childhood obesity

The Swedish research comes off the back of another study published at the beginning of the year by The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, which claimed to have found further evidence linking childhood obesity to the chemical group phthalates.

A team of scientists at the medical school’s Children’s Environment Health Center claim that research into the relationship between phthalates and childhood obesity was underlined by increased body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

The findings were published in a recent paper in the online journal Environmental Research, which measured phthalate concentrations in the urine of 387 black and Hispanic children in New York City, followed a year later by comparative measurements of waist and BMI.

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