Phthalates could contribute to obesity, insulin resistance

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Tuesday 15 May 2007

phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. But for the first time, a study has shown that these compounds, commonly found in lubricants, pesticides, paints and cosmetics, can lead to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in adult men.

Researchers from the department of community and preventive medicine of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, usa, have contended that phthalates could have a direct link to obesity. Their study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (online, March 14, 2007).

Earlier studies on human beings have shown that phthalates are associated with low testosterone levels, which in turn is linked to increased prevalence of obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.

The group analysed urine, blood samples and other data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (nhanes). These samples are collected regularly by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research. Data on phthalate exposures, obesity and waist size was available for a total of 1,451 adult men. Of them, 651 samples had data on fasting glucose and insulin levels--required to calculate insulin resistance. Taking age, race, food intake, physical activity levels and smoking into consideration, the analysis showed that men with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine were fatter and had a higher incidence of insulin resistance.

"There's still a lot to learn about phthalates," says lead author Richard Stahlhut. "The more difficult issue is what combinations of common low-dose chemical exposures might be contributing to these problems."

Phthalates are a family of compounds made from alcohols and phthalic anhydride. They are oily, colourless, odourless liquids that do not evaporate readily. They have been widely used but only recently implicated as a possible health risk.

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