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A group of researchers has detected high levels of phthalates, a class of chemicals used to soften plastics, in fast foods. Scientists cautioned that the substances may cause hormone disruption and reproductive and developmental problems.
The research team analyzed the urine samples of over 8,800 participants, who were part of a national survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2003 and 2010.
Surprisingly, the highest levels of phthalates were detected in people that regularly consumed fast food. About 33 percent said that they had dined out at a fast food restaurant in the last 24 hours. Of these, the participants who consumed at least 35 percent of their total calorie intake at those locations had up to 39 percent more phthalates in their urine than participants who ate no fast food over the same time period.
Participants who reported eating less fast-food than 35 percent of their daily calories had up to 24.8 percent more phthalates in their systems than their peers who did not consume any fast foods.
Researchers did not measure the urine levels of bisphenol-A, or BPA, another chemical commonly found in plastics which can also disrupt the endocrine system. BPA has been often associated with developmental issues and early puberty.
Ami R. Zota, lead author of the latest study and researcher at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, recommends vulnerable groups including pregnant women to minimize their exposure to phthalates. But Zota acknowledged that the sources of contamination with the chemical remain unknown.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found two years ago that phthalates may lead to reproductive issues in women. For instance, the substances may boost the risk of two conditions which may result in infertility. Plus, the group also found that exposure in the womb to phthalates may translate into slower mental development and behavioral problems.
Study authors noted that staying away from phthalates is not easy. The chemicals can be found just about everywhere from cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoos, soaps, and perfumes to flexible plastic toys and food packaging. They can also be embedded in building materials, medical devices, and detergents.
Food can get contaminated with the dangerous chemicals because of food processing tools and packaging materials. But since fast food involves a lot of packaging and processing, it is no surprise that the quick eats are a major source of phthalates.
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