Phthalates Kill an Extra 100,000 a Year

October 18, 2021

Phthalates kill an extra 100,000 Americans a Year

That's quite a headline! Want to know more? What are they? What do they do that kills so many of us? How can I alter them? Is this real?

This is what skilled epidemiologists do. They use the predictive power of statistics against large population studies to data-mine for meaningful variations. Some 5303 adults, 20 and older provided urine samples for measurement of phthalates in our NAHNES (National Health and Nutrition Evaluation Survey). This was then linked to mortality data from the same study. Phthalate metabolites in urine indicate exposure via oral, topical, inhalational means, but they are all excreted in urine. Large molecular-weight phthalates break down to di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), and that is easily measured. You may not have heard about DEHP, but the CDC sure has and has been worried about if for years. This is the first population evaluation of DEHP against mortality, and it is alarming, particularly in relation to cardiac mortality in folks in their 50s and 60s. Those are peak earning years when death results in severe economic problems for families and spouses. 

So, just what are phthalates and where do they come from. Soft plastics. Food wrap. Plastics that are stretchy and flexible, useful for stretching out and wrapping. Those are the highest likely source of DHEP. You get them every day in your meats you buy in the grocery store, the take-out packages of food you get at the deli, the container for take-home food from the restaurant. But you also get them in many beauty products that you put on your skin, or in your toothpaste.

And just what do they do? They are classic endocrine disruptors. The epidemiology shows that they are dramatically associated with lower testosterone in men. But women are not immune and they also showed increased cardiac mortality. The endocrine disruption affects both genders. And the inflammation they cause to your arteries affects both genders.

The good news is that they are not "forever" chemicals like DDT. They wash out pretty quickly. In two days you have reduced their presence by some 90 %, if you have the metabolism to do so. You can look on the bottom of the container and if it says "3", that's what we are talking about. If it says "6", that's styrene, a known carcinogen and "7" is for bisphenol, a separate problem. You can make sure you use glass or steel or porcelain containers at home. You can make sure you never, ever put the plastic in the microwave or dishwasher. The high heat of those two places just leaches out the phthalates like crazy. Wash your plastics by hand. And did you really need that hairspray?

www.What will Work for me. Wow, this is a heavy load. All the carryout we get in the pandemic is all plastic based. This lends more credence to the movement to rid ourselves of single-use plastics. The issue is more complex too. There are many of us who don't have the ability to excrete DHEP because of altered genes. In functional medicine, I've been measuring people's environmental toxins, including my own and have found a surprising number of folks with high DHEP. That adds a layer of complexity too. What I have learned is that IV glutathione and oral NAC helps rid DHEP from high levels to lower levels. Now, I've been so carefully getting distilled water from the grocery store, in plastic bottles. Should I be making my own distilled water at home, in stainless steel and glass? (Yup!)

References: Living On Earth, Environmental Pollution, CDC, WebMD, Environmental Health Perspectives, EWG,

Pop Quiz

1. What are phthalates?                                                          Answer: Plastic softeners that have been around since the 1920s that are used in just about every food wrap, many cosmetics(nail polish, hair spray), many soft children's toys.

2. What does this study show us about phthalate risks?        Answer: An increase of around 100,000 deaths in the USA annually, mostly from cardiac disease in the 50s and 60s.

3. How long do phthalates last in the human body?               Answer: With a half life of some 12 hours, they are considered gone in 5 half-lives. That's 2-3 days.

4. What's the simplest thing I can do to reduce my exposure? Answer: Don't heat your plastic covered food in the microwave. Put it on a ceramic plate or bowl.

5. Can I rid myself of excess phthalates easily?                        Answer: you can likely hasten their excretion by taking NAC (n-acetyl cysteine) as a supplement or IV glutathione. Or you can also stop exposure by exploring which personal care productsyou use have them in them.