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We live in a toxic world. It’s sad, frustrating, and overwhelming to think about. How could we have come so far from our origins as people who lived in tune with the land in such a relatively short period of time?
The greatest accelerator of the damage to the Earth seems to be World War II, it’s end, and the subsequent remodeling of the culture. And to some degree the industrial revolution was the real beginning. I’m not a historian, but I have studied a lot of the chemicals that are polluting our Earth, and many of them stem from one of these two eras. During the industrial revolution, products from the Earth were extracted and then redistributed throughout the landscape in ways that polluted. For example, mercury, chemical solvents, and soot. We are, of course, still dealing with the byproducts/waste products of industry, just think about lead in paints and gasoline, and mercury from coal. Then during WWII the US military called on chemistry to solve problems relevant to the war, making lightweight glass (plexiglass), replacing steel with plastics (to make lighter, more fuel efficient planes), the list goes on. Just 2 decades after the war, people were beginning to see the effects of mass chemical and plastics use in the environment, and the seminal book Silent Spring was written by Rachel Carson.

Great history lesson. What does this have to do with my health now?

Plastics are still being produced without any limit. And they are making their way into the environment regardless of our best efforts (recycling, by the way, was a concept created by the plastics industry). Plastics are fully synthetic compounds (although there are some new bioplastics being produced from natural materials) that are similar to their polymer progenitors in nature (silk, wool, cellulose, DNA!), but they are just different enough that they resist the Earth’s normal and natural degradation process, persisting in the environment for 100-1,000 years. And plastics are not completely inert. They are often laced with other chemicals, called plasticizers, which increase flexibility, transparency and durability of the plastic polymer, and these can leach out of the plastic.
Phthalates are plasticizers that you may be familiar with. They are used to make soft, pliable plastics from vinyl shower curtains, hair spray, nail polish to lubricants, and fragrances. They have even identified some dietary supplements that contain phthalates! They are considered by toxicologists and the medical community to be endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system is the system of organs that create and release hormones within our bodies. The organs include ovaries, testes, thyroid, parathyroid, pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus, adrenal, pancreas, and even fat is sometimes considered an organ. These organs are responsible for intra-body communication. It’s super important that this system does not get confused! If it does become confused it results in low sperm counts, or low sperm motility, it can lead to infertility in the female reproductive system. More and more the science is revealing that glucose disorders like insulin resistance, PCOS, and diabetes can be exacerbated by phthalates. In addition, research is showing that phthalates irritate the lungs and can lead to asthma. This is troubling since phthalates are everywhere! In the dust, in the plastics that our foods are packaged in, in our cosmetics. To get into the body they are absorbed through the skin, inhaled into the lungs, and ingested with our foods. They then need to be excreted and show up in urine and even breast milk.

What can you do to avoid bringing more phthalates into your home?

Step 1: Get rid of cosmetics that contain phthalates! These are some common abbreviations for phthalates:
• DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
• DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
• DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
• DEP (diethyl phthalate)
• BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
• DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
• DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
• DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
• DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
• DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)

Go to and look up your cosmetic products. If your product isn’t in there, look up the ingredients and see if you should be tossing those products in favor of products that don’t use plasticizers.

Step 2: Stop storing your food in plastic. And even more importantly, stop HEATING your food in plastic. This causes the plasticizers to leach out into the food, resulting in you ingesting it.

Step 3: Vacuum your home regularly, especially if you have vinyl flooring, plastic blinds, or wallpaper. Dust can harbor phthalates and you can inhale these, causing irritation in the airways or ingestion.

1. Accessed 3/12/19.
2. Accessed 3/12/19.
3. Accessed 3/12/19.
4. Hannon PR, Flaws JA. The effects of phthalates on the ovary. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2015;6:8. doi:10.3389/fendo.2015.00008.
5. Kocbach Bølling A, Holme JA, Bornehag CG, et al. Pulmonary phthalate exposure and asthma – is PPAR a plausible mechanistic link? EXCLI J. 2013;12:733-759. Accessed March 12, 2019.
6. Muscogiuri G, Colao A. Phtalates: new cardiovascular health disruptors? Arch Toxicol. 2017;91(3):1513-1517. doi:10.1007/s00204-016-1780-1.

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