Women’s exposure to “everywhere chemicals” may increase diabetes risk, study flags
10 Feb 2023 --- The endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) phthalates – commonly known as “everywhere chemicals” – have shown the possibility of increasing the risk of developing diabetes in women, according to a six-year study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
“Our research found phthalates may contribute to a higher incidence of diabetes in women, especially White women. People are exposed to phthalates daily, increasing their risk of several metabolic diseases. It’s important that we address EDCs now as they are harmful to human health,” says Sung Kyun Park, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
The study details that previously, phthalates have been shown to disrupt glucose homeostasis in rodents, and among adults that do not have diabetes, it is associated with insulin resistance. Although, it says that more research is needed to determine whether phthalates exposure increases the risk of diabetes.
Unclear ethnic differences
Positive associations were found between phthalates metabolites and incident diabetes among White women but not among Black or Asian women, and the explanation for those differences is “unclear,” says the study.
Further detailing the possibility of the route of exposure, the researchers note that phthalates are found in certain vaginal and menstrual products, which researchers say Black women use more frequently in comparison to White women. This increases their possibility for exposure. While absorbed via the vaginal route, the chemicals directly enter the circulation without being metabolized by the liver – as they would if ingested orally.
“This may result in differences in the levels and compositions of circulating metabolites for the same parent compound, leading to differences in toxicity,” the study notes.
Previous studies have found that Black and Asian women have lower rates of gluconeogenesis than white women, leading to less frequent fasting hyperglycemia, the researchers note.
“Unfortunately, without additional data, we cannot determine which factors may explain the racial or ethnic differences. Our data do indicate that some phthalate metabolites were associated with increased insulin resistance in women across ethnic diversities,” the study details, and continues:
“This suggests that all racial or ethnic groups are potentially susceptible to phthalates’ impact on glucose metabolism. Therefore, better-designed studies are needed to quantify the diabetes risks associated with phthalate exposure, particularly in non-White women.”
Human and environmental health
Previous research showed that phthalates used as plasticizers in packaging for common F&B and cosmetics products could be causing over 100,000 deaths annually in the US alone, as exposure to the chemical is connected to heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in the US. Exposure for women also showed a link between decreased sexual desire and satisfaction.
Other effects on women’s health from exposure to phthalates during early life on reproductive development and function found that it influences the timing of pubertal development and might result in premature birth.
Despite years of research demonstrating the dangers of these chemicals to human and environmental health, it is still used in F&B packaging and other products. In 2021, eight environmental and human health organizations sued the US Food and Drug Administration for failing to ban these substances.
However, according to a recent study by scientists at the University of Vienna, Austria, the problem goes beyond packaging. A study on lettuce found that tire wear from cars may “end up on our plate” and have the potential to toxify some plants we consume, as it goes directly into our agricultural systems.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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