Endocrine-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates — which are commonly used in plastics — may increase the risk of diabetes in women, a new study has found.
White women with high exposures to some of these substances had a 30 percent to 63 percent higher chance of developing diabetes, according to the study, which was published on Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
However, researchers found no association between these harmful chemicals and diabetes incidence in Black or Asian women.
“People are exposed to phthalates daily increasing their risk of several metabolic diseases,” Sung Kyun Park, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan and one of the study authors, said in a statement.
“It’s important that we address [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] now as they are harmful to human health,” Park added.
These substances mimic, block or interfere with hormones in the body’s endocrine system and can be linked to a variety of health issues, according to the Endocrine Society, an international medical association.
Phthalates are a class of endocrine disruptors that are widely used in plastics, such as personal care products, toys, and food and beverage packaging.
Exposure to phthalates is linked to reduced fertility, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, the authors noted.
In a research effort led by doctoral student Mia Peng, the scientists studied 1,308 women over six years to see if phthalates contributed to incident diabetes within this population.
The women were all participants in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, a database co-sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Research on Women’s Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
These women all had phthalate concentrations in their urine similar to those collected from middle-aged American women in the early 2000s, according to the study.
About half of the participants were white, while 20.3 percent were Black, 13 percent were Chinese and 15.2 percent were Japanese.
Most of the participants were pre- or perimenopausal nonsmokers, while about 29 percent were obese.
In total, the scientists found that 61 of the women — about 4.7 percent — developed diabetes during the six-year timeframe.
Compared to those who did not develop diabetes, women who did end up with the condition had significantly higher concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites, according to the study.
Because the study identified positive associations between these substances and diabetes risk in white women only, the scientists stressed that “a causal relationship between phthalates and diabetes remains uncertain.”
They therefore called for further studies to probe the potential relationship.
“Given widespread exposure to phthalates and the enormous costs of diabetes to individuals and societies, ongoing investments in the research on phthalates’ metabolic effects are warranted,” the authors concluded.