Plastic additives known as phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are odorless, colorless and just about everywhere: They turn up in flooring, plastic cups, beach balls, plastic wrap, intravenous tubing and—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the bodies of most Americans. Once perceived as harmless, phthalates have come under increasing scrutiny. A growing collection of evidence suggests dietary exposure to phthalates (which can leech from packaging and mix with food) may cause significant metabolic and hormonal abnormalities, especially during early development.
Now, new research published this Wednesday in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests that certain types of phthalates could pose another risk to children: compromised heart health. Drawing on data from a nationally representative survey of nearly 3,000 children and teens, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine, have documented for the first time a connection between dietary exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate), a common class of phthalate widely used in industrial food production, and elevated systolic blood pressure, a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.
“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” says lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, 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.”