NEW YORK – It is well known that eating often increases 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 and 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 known as endocrine disruptors, meaning 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 phthalate levels were eaten by participants who ate in restaurants, cafeterias, and fast food outlets. The previous day was 35% higher than those who Reported that they were eating groceries bought at the grocery store.
Those who dined out were likely to be exposed to chemicals that had come into contact with plastic wrappers, said Ami Zota, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Work Health at George Washington University and a lead author of the study.
"The main idea is that foods made in restaurants and cafeterias come into contact with materials that contain phthalates, partly because of some of the food being made in decentralized locations," Zota said.
"Most of the phthalates that are the most worrisome from a health perspective are plasticisers, which 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 201
The researchers found that about two-thirds of respondents said they go out at least once a day. Those who fed also had a significantly higher content of phthalate metabolites in the urine.
This association was consistent across all age groups, genders, and ethnicities, but it was highest among teenage dangers: they had 55% higher phthalate levels at home
"The association between phthalate exposure and Food was available in all ages, but the level of association was highest for teens, "said Zota. "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 adds to this research by showing that the compound also remains in other types of facilities, such as seating 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 oversees 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 option is to reduce or ban phthalates in food production."
The good news, however, is that phthalates remain in the body for only about a day. Changing your eating habits and consuming more home-cooked meals could, therefore, have almost immediate health benefits, according to Zota.
"Eating at home can be a win-win situation," Zota said. "Self-cooked meals can be a great way to reduce sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt, and this study suggests that they do not have as many harmful phthalates as restaurant meals."
"The other important point is that these chemicals are ubiquitous are 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 in politics and in the market changes solutions. "