Chemicals in Plastics Bad for Hearts

Dietary exposure to phthalates may increase blood pressure in kids

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Plastic additives called phthalates are used widely in various products and were once considered harmless. But their safety has been questioned in recent years. 

Phthalates are found in many common household products, including toys, plastic wrap and flooring.

Phthalates are even found in our bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since they can 'leak' from food packaging and find their way into our systems.

Various studies have examined the association of phthalates with asthma, allergies, hormonal abnormalities and cancer among other conditions.

Results of a new study suggest that certain kinds of phthalates could affect heart health and lead to abnormalities in blood pressure in exposed children. 

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This study was conducted by Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, along with colleagues at NYU Langone Medical Center in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, the University of Cincinnati and Penn State University School of Medicine.

The objective of the study was to inspect the relationship between dietary exposure to di-2-ethyhexylphthalate (DEHP), a common type of phthalate frequently used in industrial food production, and elevated blood pressure in kids.

“Phthalates can inhibit the function of cardiac cells and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries. But no one has explored the relationship between phthalate exposure and heart health in children,” said lead author Dr. Trasande, who is associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Medical Center.

“We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure in particular, given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to environmental exposures in early development of disease,” he said.

This study included 3,000 children and teens from the United States. The researchers collected six years of data for this population from a nationally representative survey administered by the National Centers for Health Statistics, a part of the CDC. The level of phthalates in the urine was then measured using standard laboratory techniques.

Normal systolic blood pressure, the reading that measures the strength at which blood is pumped by the heart, is around 120 millimeters of mercury. Hypertension or high blood pressure was defined as any reading above 140 millimeters of mercury.

The results showed that every three-fold increase in the DEHP-related chemicals in the urine was associated with around one millimeter increase in blood pressure.

“That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially,” Dr. Trasande noted.

“Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioral interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health,” he said.

Dr. Trasande also pointed out that hypertension, once thought to be a disease of older adults, is now affecting kids due to the global obesity epidemic.

In fact, according to the study, recent national surveys have shown that around 14 percent of American adolescents have hypertension or pre-hypertension, a condition in which blood pressure is elevated but hasn’t reached hypertensive levels.

“Obesity is driving the trend, but our findings suggest that environmental factors may also be a part of the problem. This is important because phthalate exposure can be controlled through regulatory and behavioral interventions,” says Dr. Trasande.

It must be noted that an association between phthalate exposure and hypertension does not prove that phthalates are directly responsible for the elevated blood pressure. Further studies in this area are needed before a conclusion can be made. 

This study was published online in the Journal of Pediatrics in May. 

The research was funded by KiDs of NYU Langone, a child health support organization. No other relevant financial relationships or conflicts of interest were disclosed by the authors.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 23, 2013
Last Updated:
August 9, 2013