Evidence of exposure to industrial chemicals was found in people who recently ate fast food, a new study found.
Those who had eaten the most fast food in the prior 24 hours had as much as 40 percent higher levels of chemicals known as phthalates in their bodies.
The study was conducted by researchers from George Washington University and published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
It’s based on data collected from 8,877 participants who answered detailed questions about what they had eaten in the prior 24 hours and gave urine samples that were tested for byproducts of two specific phthalates, DEHP and DiNP.
Phthalates are a type of industrial chemical used to make food packaging materials, tubing that collects milk for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests phthalates can contaminate highly processed food by leaching out of plastic food packaging.
The new study found that, compared with participants who reported eating no fast food in the prior 24 hours, those who had eaten the most fast food had:
- 23.8 percent higher levels of the byproduct for DEHP in their urine sample.
- Nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine sample.
The researchers also found that meat items and grain items — including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles — were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure.
The researchers also tested the urine samples for signs of exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging, bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA. They found no association between total fast food intake and BPA, but they noticed that participants who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than those who had not eaten fast food.
The study did not examine the health consequences of phthalates. Lead author Ami Zota, an assistant professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW, notes in a news release, however, that studies that have examined the health impact of phthalates suggest these chemicals can damage the reproductive system and may lead to infertility.
“Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.”
Zota’s advice to people concerned about phthalate exposure is to eat less fast food. She also suggests eating more fruits and vegetables and whole foods.
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