Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a Seattle Children's Research Institute environmental medicine expert, co-authored a study that compiled data from 17 international studies measuring phthalate (pronounced thall-eight) exposure in different foods. Diet is believed to be the greatest source of phthalate exposure. Foods are likely contaminated with these chemicals through packaging and processing materials, Sathyanarayana said.
The study, published in Environmental Health, found the typical diet of infants over 6 months old who are eating solid foods contains an unsafe level of phthalates. In contrast, the typical diets consumed by women of a childbearing age and adolescents did not contain unsafe levels of these toxins.
"We were surprised and concerned to learn a baby's typical diet would expose them to more phthalates than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reference dose for safety," Sathyanarayana said.
Sathyanarayana reports diets high in meat (especially poultry) and dairy exceeded safe phthalate levels by more than four times for all age groups. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables had the lowest levels of phthalates. Sathyanarayana does not believe there is a significant difference in phthalate exposure between organic and non-organic foods, though the study reports cooked foods tend to have lower levels of phthalates.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that can affect hormones such as estrogen or testosterone, which help control body, brain and reproductive development. Children who are exposed to phthalates during development may experience effects throughout their lives, including changes in reproductive organs or increased allergies.
"Parents should be conscious of what they eat and what their children are eating," Sathyanarayana said. "I recommend families stick to a varied, low fat diet with a focus on whole fruits and vegetables."
How to keep kids safe
Here are some additional tips families can follow to reduce phthalate and BPA exposure:
Buy low fat dairy products such as skim milk and low fat cheeses. Avoid high fat foods such as cream, whole milk and fatty meats.
Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Avoid canned and processed foods.
Purchase items that are phthalate free.
Minimize personal care product use, which can contain high levels of phthalates.
Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood to hold and store foods instead of plastics.
Do not microwave foods/beverages in plastic.
Do not use hard, polycarbonate plastics for hot liquids.
Encourage frequent hand washing to remove chemicals from children's hands.
Minimize handling of receipts, which contain chemicals.
Take shoes off at home to avoid tracking in dust that may contain these chemicals.
Keep carpets/windowsills clean. Vacuum and wet dust frequently to minimize dust that may contain these chemicals.
For more information read the full research article.
CDC Factsheet: Phthalates
University of Washington's Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit
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