Phthalates (say “thal-lates”) are a family of chemicals used in a wide variety of products, including food packaging, cosmetics, nail polish, perfume, and flooring. An elite team of health professionals from a trio of high-powered research institutions (Harvard, the University of Rochester, and the University of Michigan) just published a compelling analysis about diabetes and exposure to phthalates.
The researchers found that women with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies were more likely to have diabetes. That’s troubling, as authors of the study write, because phthalates are “nearly ubiquitous” in our bodies. The results are even more troubling because the study looked at over 2,000 women in a government study that’s specially designed to be representative of all Americans.
About 500 million pounds of phthalates are made or used in the US every year. The number of women with diabetes has doubled since 1980. It’s likely that there are multiple causes for the increased rate of diabetes, but this connection with toxic exposures is both frightening and a call to action.
In 2008, a new federal law set strict limits for phthalates in products marketed to children, but was silent about products intended for anyone older than 12. The US Environmental Protection Agency has drafted an “action plan” to deal with problems caused by phthalates, but based on experiences with other chemicals, we aren’t expecting strong action from EPA soon.
So what can we do now to protect our health and our families health? Here’s one simple step you can take. One of the phthalates linked to diabetes in the recent study was a chemical that shows up occasionally in nail polish: dibutyl phthalate. Take a look at your nail polish and read the fine print that lists the ingredients. If you see dibutyl phthalate (or any other phthalate) I’d suggest switching to a brand that’s phthalate-free. Or just go for plain nails! Either seems way better than diabetes.