Food frequently is known to increase the intake of unhealthy sugars and fats. But a new study suggests that there is another reason to eat more often at home: Phthalates
Phthalates are potentially harmful chemicals found in hundreds of consumer products, including perfumes, hair sprays, shampoos, and food processing and plastics -packaging.
Consumption of these chemicals has been associated with birth defects in boys, as well as behavioral problems and obesity in older children and adults. Exposure to utero may alter the development of the male reproductive tract, resulting in incomplete descent of one or both testes.
Scientists also suspect that the chemicals can disrupt hormones and cause fertility problems. They have linked them to childhood obesity, asthma, neurological problems, cardiovascular problems and even cancer.
"Phthalates are a class of synthetic chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which means they affect hormones in the body," Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, an associate professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington and former chair of the Environmental Protection Agency's Advisory Committee on Child Health Protection, which was not involved in the study. "Hormones are essential for normal body functions like reproduction or metabolism."
The study, published Wednesday in Environment International magazine, found that the phthalate levels of participants who had eaten in restaurants, cafeterias, and fast food outlets yesterday were 35% higher than those Those who ate food in the grocery store
Those who dined abroad were likely exposed to chemicals over food that had come in contact with plastic wrappers, said Ami Zota, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Health Protection at George Washington University and lead author of the study ,
"The main idea is that food produced in restaurants and cafeterias sometimes comes into contact with phthalate-containing materials because part of the food is made in decentralized locations," Zota said.
"Most of the phthalates that are most affected by a health problem are ective softeners; they are added to soften plastics," she added. "They are added to food packaging, they can be in gloves for food handling and they can be found in food tubes."
The study relied on data collected between 2005 and 2014 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey every two years by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It involved 10,253 people who were asked about their eating habits over the past 24 hours and who provided urine samples to assess the level of phthalate in the body.
The researchers found that about two-thirds of respondents had eaten at least once a day. Those who dined abroad also had a significantly higher content of phthalate metabolites in the urine.
This association was consistent across all age groups, genders, and ethnicities, but was highest among teenagers who went out: they had 55% higher phthalate levels at home
"The relationship between phthalate exposure and food There were all ages, but the extent of the association was highest for teens, "Zota said. "Certain foods, especially cheeseburgers and other sandwiches, have also been associated with elevated phthalate levels, but only when purchased from a restaurant."
This is not the first time that phthalates have been linked to food sources. In 2016, Zota led a study that showed a link between phthalate exposure and fast food restaurants. The new study extends this research by showing that the compound persists in other types of facilities, such as restaurants and cafeterias.
"We first used this method to focus on fast food for some notable associations between the recent fast-food consumption and phthalate exposure," Zota said. "And now we've expanded that to see if the results for fast foods are unique or how they compare to other foods that reflect other types of food processing and manufacturing systems?"
Last year, a report found high concentrations of phthalates in macaroni and cheese mixes, leading to increased regulation of chemicals in food. Although the US Food and Drug Administration monitors phthalates in a range of cosmetics, it does not regulate their presence in food or beverage products.
"Policymakers need to focus on reducing phthalate exposure in food production processes, and food producers need to know about contamination sources and work to reduce them," said Sathyanarayana. "The other way to achieve this is to either reduce or eliminate the use of phthalates in food production."
The good news, however, is that phthalates only stay in the body for about a day. A change in eating habits and eating more home-cooked meals could therefore have immediate health benefits, according to Zota.
"Eating at home can be a win-win situation," Zota said. "Homemade meals can be a great way to reduce sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt, and this study suggests they do not have as many harmful phthalates as restaurant meals."
"The other important point is that these chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment, "she added.
" In order to truly reduce the exposure of all humans to these potentially harmful chemicals, we need systemic changes in the production and transportation of our food, and this requires both policy and attention the market changes solutions. "