Chemicals that disrupt hormones known as phthalates have been found in many fast food meals tested as part of new research. The authors of the study discovered several different phthalates, as well as other chemicals that would replace phthalates, in various fast food dishes.ms, including french fries, burritoand cheeseburgers. Although the impact of these chemicals on health is still being studied, the authors argue that more should be done to prevent them from entering our food.
Phthalates are a widely used type of plasticizer, used to give flexibility to plastics and other substances. They are also a type of chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system (EDC), which mimic or otherwise interfere with hormones we naturally produce, such as testosterone and estrogen. Animal and human studies have shown that increased exposure to EDCs, including phthalates, can adversely affect children’s development and increase their risk of health conditions such as asthma,, obesity, i later fertility problems, although the exact strength of these associations is not clear.
Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives, as are the chemicals used in it, such as phthalates. But researchers from the Milken Institute of George Washington School of Public Health have discovered in recent years that fast food can be a particularly rich source of exposure. Their study from 2018 looked on urine samples of Americans who participated in a nationally representative study and found that those who recently reported eating at fast food restaurants were more likely to have higher phthalate levels than those who ate more often at home.
This new research, led by some of the same authors, looked at fast food itself instead. They collected 64 food samples from 6 different restaurants in the San Antonio area of Texas, including hamburger stores, a pizzeria, and a Texas-Mexican restaurant; they also collected pairs of food handling gloves from three of these restaurants. They were all tested for the most commonly reported phthalates, as well as other plasticizers that began to be used as a supposedly safer alternative to phthalates.
Overall, 81% of food items contained phthalate di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), while 70% also contained di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), both of which were included as possible associates to fertility problems. About 89% of the food contained some di (2-ethylhexyl) terephthalate (DEHT), a nephthalate plasticizer. Some research suggests that DEHT may be a safer chemical than other phthalates, but it has not yet been carefully studied, so any conclusion about its relative safety in humans is still speculative, the authors argue. Meat products, including cheeseburgers and chicken burritos, generally had the highest levels of any of these chemicals.
The team’s findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.
“We have found that phthalates and other plasticizers are widespread in prepared foods available in US fast food chains, which means that many consumers get away with potentially unhealthy chemicals along with their meal,” said lead author Lariah Edwards, a postdoctoral researcher in George. Washington, in a statement submitted to Gizmod. “Stricter regulations are needed to prevent these harmful chemicals in food supplies.”
It is likely that the plastic packaging used to store this food is one way of contamination. But the gloves used to prepare food for customers may be different. Other team tests revealed levels of replacement plasticizers especially in the gloves.
Although the exact risk posed by fast food phthalates is currently not easy to measure, the authors suspect that certain groups are more vulnerable to them. Poorer neighborhoods usually have more fast food restaurants, while they have less access to fresh food. And these settlements are not only divided by classes, but often also by race and ethnicity. Thus, although these foods are not initially healthy, phthalates and other environmental toxins can only further exacerbate health disparities between those who have and those who do not.
“Further research is needed to find out whether people living in such deserts are at greater risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals,” said study author Ami Zota, a professor of environmental and occupational health in George Washington.
Scientists and security advocates have begun to talk about it more and more loudly health and environmental risks (including contributions climate change) which is plastic, although the campaigns are run by industry pushed back in return. Systematic efforts will be needed to really reduce the presence of these chemicals in our world, but in the meantime, the authors say that these and other findings provide another reason why cooking at home is a better and healthier choice when possible.
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