We know that poor diet and lack of exercise are main risk factors for type 2 diabetes. We know that syndromes like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and metabolic syndrome are also risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which is why lifestyle changes to reduce obesity, improve diet and increase activity are so effective at combating the blood sugar issues associated with diabetes. For those of you who have made all these changes but are still struggling with blood sugar control, there is a very real and very dangerous culprit that could be at least partially to blame: the phthalates found in many plastics.
In a study accepted this past March by the American Diabetes Association, 1,016 subjects aged 70 were studied to see if there was a correlation between the phthalates present in their system and their incidences of diabetes. There was. The authors concluded that:
“These findings support the view that these commonly used chemicals might influence major factors that are regulating glucose metabolism in humans at the level of exposure of phthalate metabolites seen in the general elderly population.”
The phthalates found in the study subjects were not only linked to poor insulin secretion, but also to insulin resistance, depending on which phthalate was studied.
While this study was done specifically on the elderly, you can’t help but expect that similar issues would be present in younger populations as well. After all, our level of exposure doesn’t change over the years, because, as you will see below, phthalates are unavoidable.
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates are industrial chemicals used to make plastic flexible. If you look around your home, you will probably find these plastics in virtually every room of your house. They are in toys, hoses, personal care products, PVC, shower curtains, cosmetics and more. It could be argued that phthalates are one of the most prevalent chemicals in our modern world, and they cause a wide range of serious side effects. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG):
“Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system. Several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.”
In personal care products, which include hair care products, body care products, nail polish, lotions, soaps and more, phthalates are used to help fragrances last longer. It is difficult but possible to find personal care products that do not contain phthalates, but you won’t be able to tell simply by reading the ingredients. You may need to ask the manufacturer directly, or just do what we do and avoid products with fragrance altogether. As it turns out, the human body is not a seething mass of foul odors, as society would like us to believe.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?
According to The Daily Green, these are the top chemical ingredient names to avoid in labels:
- DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
- Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate)
- BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate)
- DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
Additionally, choose plastics whose recycling codes are 1, 2 or 5 – 3 and 7 are plastics that are more likely to have phthalates.
We have been slowly working to phase out plastics in our home. When possible, we buy wooden toys, glass containers, and opt for having fewer “things” in our home altogether. Simplicity is better for many reasons, not the least of which is minimizing your exposure to harmful chemicals.
So if you have been struggling with blood sugar control even after making changes to your diet and exercise plans, consider environmental reasons and see if you can work to remove phthalates from your life.