Researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center and the Harvard School of Public Health have found a class of chemicals called phthalates as inactive ingredients in many medicines and dietary supplements. Their research findings have just been published online in Environmental Health Perspective and will soon be out in print.
Phthalates are used as plasticizers to increase the longevity, flexibility, and durability of plastics (#3 plastics). They are also used in a number of personal-care products, detergents, paint, printing ink, toys, modelling clay, medical devices, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, nail polish, cleaning products, perfumes, food packaging, and insecticides.
Are your medicines coated in plastic?
In this preliminary study, researchers found that over 100 drug and dietary supplement products contained phthalates.
- 50 prescription drugs
- 40 over-the-counter drugs
- 26 dietary supplement products
The research indicates that this list may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Kathy Kelley, a research pharmacist in the study noted that:
“Given the thousands of orally-ingested products on the market (prescription, OTC and dietary supplements), it is difficult to know exactly how many contain phthalates.”
The potential health risks of exposure to phthalates through medications is presently unknown. However, the health effects of long-term exposure to this class of chemicals from other sources is fairly well documented (see below).
A detailed list of which medications and supplements containing phthalates is not yet available but, there are some hints as to which medicines are more likely to contain these chemicals.
Medications that have been designed for slow breakdown or labeled as being a time release capsule or a coated (safety-coated, film-coated, enteric-coated) are likely candidates.
The dangers of phthalates
Phthalates can be easily released into the environment.
While children are more susceptible to exposure than adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the population is commonly exposed to these chemicals and multiple types of phthalates are found in urine samples of both adults and children.
High doses in animal studies have been linked to changes in hormone levels, birth defects, and damage to the liver and testes.
In addition, phthalates have been linked to:
- allergies in children
- resistance to insulin (a precursor of Type 2 Diabetes)
- low birth weight in infants
- symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
Reducing your family’s exposure to phthalates
Air concentrations of phthalates is typically higher indoors than outdoors. Exposure can come from the air we breath, the foods we eat, and the products we touch or use on our skin.
While there is no way to avoid this class of chemicals 100% of the time, there are steps you can take to significantly reduce the level of exposure to you and your family.
Some quick tips:
- Air your house out frequently, especially when bringing in new plastics, carpeting, paint, and vinyl to your house
- Avoid cooking with plastics or reheating in plastics
- Avoid use of vinyl shower curtains and other soft plastics that off gas easily
- Avoid using air fresheners and home care products that are scented, including candles – scents are created using phthlates.
- Find safer personal care products and avoid anything that has a fragrance or “parfum” – see helpful link below.