The New Blood Pressure Trigger
Is your blood pressure creeping up? A common food contaminant could be partially to blame.
There’s no question that a poor diet and lack of exercise trigger cardiovascular chaos. But those aren’t the only causes of high blood pressure and other ticker trouble. Researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center, the University of Washington, and the Penn State School of Medicine recently made a first-of-its kind connection between phthalates, a common chemical used to soften plastic, and higher blood pressure in children and teens.
Researchers looked at more than 3,000 children and teens and tested phthalate breakdown products in the urine to gauge exposure. They found dietary exposure—likely the result of leaching from food packaging—and elevated systolic blood pressure, a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. It’s the first time a connection like this has been made.
The researchers found that every threefold increase in the level of DEHP, a type of phthalate, in the urine correlated to about a one-millimeter mercury rise in a child’s blood pressure. “That increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially,” said lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioral interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health,” he adds.
The study appeared in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Usually hypertension, characterized as a systolic blood pressure reading above 140 mm Hg, is seen in people age 50 and older. The disease is cropping up in children now, too. Approximately 14 percent of American kids have pre-hypertension or hypertension.
“The concern posed by our study is that children with increases in blood pressure early in life are more likely to go on to have other difficulties, including heart disease later in life.” Dr. Trasande said. “This study suggests the need to consider environmental exposures in addition to diet, physical activity, and obesity prevention.”
Phthalates are colorless and odorless, but their impact on human health is anything but benign. Increasingly, scientists are finding that phthalates, especially DEHP, may promote oxidative stress, potentially damaging on heart health.
The latest study adds more credence to the growing pool of evidence suggesting plastic chemicals don’t just throw off hormones and cause obesity, but actually inflict heart damage. In lab tests, phthalates caused a dysfunction in heart tissue cells. BPA, or bisphenol A, another chemical found in some plastics and canned-food liners, has been shown to trigger abnormal heart rhythms, causing heart attack concerns.
9 Ways to Dodge Phthalates:
• Don’t heat plastic in the microwave. Use glass instead.
• Eat organic. Some chemical pesticide mixtures contain phthalates.
• Avoid personal care products listing “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients—these synthetic mixtures often contain phthalates.
• Use fragrance-free, plant-based laundry detergents. Use ¼ cup vinegar in the rinse cycle to reduce static instead of using dryer sheets or fabric softener.
• Avoid burning scented candles. Instead, opt for beeswax.
• When remodeling, use bamboo, sustainable wood, or real linoleum or cork instead of vinyl flooring.
• Veto vinyl throughout the house (no vinyl shower curtains, fake leather furniture, or vinyl purses) and instead purchase household items made from natural fabrics (try a hemp or organic cotton shower curtain, for instance).
• Tell your federally elected officials to support meaningful chemical reform