What Diet Best Lowers Phthalate Exposure?

What Diet Best Lowers Phthalate Exposure?
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The highest levels of phthalates, hormone-disrupting plastics chemical pollutants, are found in meats, fats, and dairy.

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Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a number of adverse health effects, such as disturbing infant and child development, and, in adults, may affect reproductive health in men, endometriosis in women, and is associated with increased abdominal fat in both. Given the increasing evidence base linking phthalate exposure with harmful outcomes, it’s important to understand major sources of exposure.

The most major of which is diet, for if you take people and have them stop eating for a few days, you get a significant drop in the amount of phthalates spilling out into their urine. One can only fast for so long, though. Thankfully, we can see similar drops just eating a plant-based diet for a few days—which gives us a clue as to where most phthalates are found.

The highest levels are found in meats, fats, and dairy. Poultry consistently comes out as being most contaminated across the board, with some of the highest levels ever reported, though there are geographic exceptions. In the U.K., fish came out worse. And in Belgium, nothing appears to beat out reindeer meat.

In the U.S., though, it’s poultry. The finding that egg consumption is also significantly associated with phthalate levels suggests that chickens themselves may be contaminated, and it’s not just like the plastic they’re wrapped with at the store. The same might not be true with dairy, though.

Realizing that these chemicals may be harmful, researchers in Seattle took ten families and randomized them into five days of complete dietary replacement with fresh organic foods: no packaging. Nothing touched plastic. Organic milk delivered in glass; even the crates to carry the food were wood, instead of plastic. This was like the fasting study, to see what role eliminating processed foods would have on lowering phthalate levels—because not everyone wants to switch to a plant-based diet, or stop eating completely.

Here’s where the families started at baseline before changing their diet, and here’s where they ended up a week after the experiment, when they were back on their baseline diet. The question is, what happened in the middle? Eating fresh and organic, their phthalate levels went up—a dramatic and unexpected increase in one of the most toxic phthalates, and not just a little, like 2,000% increase. So, they tested all the foods, and one of the spices was off the chart. And so was the dairy, because most of the phthalates apparently don’t come from the cow; they come from the tubing.

If you milk cows by hand, which even the Amish don’t do anymore, the levels of phthalates in the milk are low. But if you milk the same cows by machine, the milk picks up phthalates from the tubing. And so, the final levels may depend more on the tubing than on what the cows are fed.

Whereas, we’re not sure where the chickens are getting it. This study was done on adults; more recently, we learned where our kids may be getting it from. They found pretty much the same thing: mostly meat, poultry, and fish. And again, poultry appeared to be the worst, while soy consumption was associated with significantly lower levels. But what kind of exposure are we talking about?

They calculated what may be typical exposures for infants, teens, and women. How does this compare with current guidelines? Well, the EPA’s reference dose, which is like the maximum acceptable threshold, is 20 [micrograms per kilograms per day], based on liver risk. Europe places their maximum daily intake for testicular toxicity at 50 [micrograms per kilograms per day]. So, a typical infant diet exceeds the EPA’s safety level, while a diet high in meat and dairy was approximately four times this threshold. For adolescents, a diet high in meat and dairy also exceeded the EPA’s reference dose.

Diets high in meat and dairy consumption resulted in a two-fold increase in exposure. And all diets from all groups exceeded the allowable daily intakes derived by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for problems with sperm production, while diets high in meat and dairy consumption may exceed the allowable intake for risk of reproductive birth defects as well.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Serdar Basak via 123rf.

Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to a number of adverse health effects, such as disturbing infant and child development, and, in adults, may affect reproductive health in men, endometriosis in women, and is associated with increased abdominal fat in both. Given the increasing evidence base linking phthalate exposure with harmful outcomes, it’s important to understand major sources of exposure.

The most major of which is diet, for if you take people and have them stop eating for a few days, you get a significant drop in the amount of phthalates spilling out into their urine. One can only fast for so long, though. Thankfully, we can see similar drops just eating a plant-based diet for a few days—which gives us a clue as to where most phthalates are found.

The highest levels are found in meats, fats, and dairy. Poultry consistently comes out as being most contaminated across the board, with some of the highest levels ever reported, though there are geographic exceptions. In the U.K., fish came out worse. And in Belgium, nothing appears to beat out reindeer meat.

In the U.S., though, it’s poultry. The finding that egg consumption is also significantly associated with phthalate levels suggests that chickens themselves may be contaminated, and it’s not just like the plastic they’re wrapped with at the store. The same might not be true with dairy, though.

Realizing that these chemicals may be harmful, researchers in Seattle took ten families and randomized them into five days of complete dietary replacement with fresh organic foods: no packaging. Nothing touched plastic. Organic milk delivered in glass; even the crates to carry the food were wood, instead of plastic. This was like the fasting study, to see what role eliminating processed foods would have on lowering phthalate levels—because not everyone wants to switch to a plant-based diet, or stop eating completely.

Here’s where the families started at baseline before changing their diet, and here’s where they ended up a week after the experiment, when they were back on their baseline diet. The question is, what happened in the middle? Eating fresh and organic, their phthalate levels went up—a dramatic and unexpected increase in one of the most toxic phthalates, and not just a little, like 2,000% increase. So, they tested all the foods, and one of the spices was off the chart. And so was the dairy, because most of the phthalates apparently don’t come from the cow; they come from the tubing.

If you milk cows by hand, which even the Amish don’t do anymore, the levels of phthalates in the milk are low. But if you milk the same cows by machine, the milk picks up phthalates from the tubing. And so, the final levels may depend more on the tubing than on what the cows are fed.

Whereas, we’re not sure where the chickens are getting it. This study was done on adults; more recently, we learned where our kids may be getting it from. They found pretty much the same thing: mostly meat, poultry, and fish. And again, poultry appeared to be the worst, while soy consumption was associated with significantly lower levels. But what kind of exposure are we talking about?

They calculated what may be typical exposures for infants, teens, and women. How does this compare with current guidelines? Well, the EPA’s reference dose, which is like the maximum acceptable threshold, is 20 [micrograms per kilograms per day], based on liver risk. Europe places their maximum daily intake for testicular toxicity at 50 [micrograms per kilograms per day]. So, a typical infant diet exceeds the EPA’s safety level, while a diet high in meat and dairy was approximately four times this threshold. For adolescents, a diet high in meat and dairy also exceeded the EPA’s reference dose.

Diets high in meat and dairy consumption resulted in a two-fold increase in exposure. And all diets from all groups exceeded the allowable daily intakes derived by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for problems with sperm production, while diets high in meat and dairy consumption may exceed the allowable intake for risk of reproductive birth defects as well.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Serdar Basak via 123rf.

Doctor's Note

Other videos on dietary sources of phthalates include Chicken Consumption and the Feminization of Male Genitalia and Lowering Dietary Antibiotic Intake. Diet isn’t the only way one can be exposed internally, though. See my video Avoiding Adult Exposure to Phthalates for the risk in children’s and adult toys.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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