Plastics are no longer the miracle they were once seen as in the 20th century.

For environmental reasons, there are a growing number of bans on the use of plastic around the world. My state in Australia banned single-use plastic bags three years ago, and two months ago, several more disposable plastic items were added to the list.

Plastics don’t just pollute the external environment, however. Research shows that the chemicals like phthalates, which are found in plastics, may contribute to human disease and death.

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a class of petrochemical added to a wide range of products, in order to make them last longer. Items such as children’s toys may have phthalates added so that they won’t break as easily, or perfumes may include them to make the fragrance last longer.

This is why phthalates are sometimes called “everywhere chemicals.” They’re hard to get away from, and any leaching into the environment makes avoiding them entirely a collective effort. Phthalates are unfortunately also endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with your hormonal pathways.

Phthalate Exposure And Early Death

A new study published in October 2021 adds to the evidence that plastics may in fact be the new cigarettes. Around 5,300 adults were followed from 2013 to 2015, to see if there was any link between urine levels of phthalates and higher death rates. 

It turned out that higher levels of phthalates are linked to a 10-14 percent higher death rate per year, with increasing exposures showing worse effects. In the top third of phthalate exposure, their death rate was over 40 percent greater. Cardiovascular disease seems to be the main cause of phthalate-related death, with di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP) being the most dangerous phthalate. DEHP is banned for use in children’s toys but is still legal for food packaging. When we translate these effects to numbers,  we can expect between 90,761 and 107,283 Americans aged 55 to 64 to die from phthalate toxicity every year. 

Unsurprisingly, the American Chemistry Council stated that the new research is “inaccurate” because phthalates were tested separately. We can see that this is false, as DHEP was singled out as a particularly harmful chemical. 

Phthalates And Body Fat

Another consequence of phthalate exposure, starting from before birth, is weight gain. If allowed to develop into obesity, carrying around excess body fat can lead to early death. Research on Greek children found that boys and girls are not equal when it comes to increased weight gain. Only girls had a significantly higher waist circumference, by almost an inch (2.14 centimeters) for every 10-fold increase in prenatal DHEP exposure. However, both boys and girls had a slight increase in cholesterol levels. 

How Can You Reduce Phthalate Exposure?

The best time to start cutting out phthalates is now, especially if you’re pregnant. To reduce your phthalate exposure, follow these steps:

  • Do not microwave in plastic.
  • Buy glass, ceramic, or wood containers for food instead of plastics.
  • Choose products that aren’t sold in plastic packaging.
  • Use personal care and cleaning products that have no synthetic scents. 

The last point doesn’t mean you have to miss out on luxury, however. Neil Naturopathic haircare uses all-natural recipes that feel amazing both during and after washing your hair. This restorative conditioner, for example, doesn’t compromise and gives you salon-like quality while strengthening your hair.

Looking at the evidence, phthalates have got to go. Early death through causes such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic issues means that we must switch to natural alternatives, in particular personal care products. Thankfully, all-natural products are here to stay and growing in popularity and quality. 

Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.

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