Toxic Chemicals in Beauty Products and Packaging Boost Uterine Fibroid Growth Per Study 

Phthalates are a bunch of chemicals used to toughen plastics, and are ever present in industrial and consumer products such as makeup and food containers, might increase uterine fibroids in women.

Researchers at Northwestern Medicine found a clear link between exposure to phthalates (harmful chemicals in everyday items like makeup and food containers) and increased growth of uterine fibroids in women.

Phthalates are chemicals that make plastic tough and are used in many things we use every day. DEHP is one of the most common phthalates, found in items like car upholstery, shoes, lunchboxes and shower curtains. They’re also in beauty and personal care products like hairspray, shampoo, nail polish and perfumes. Some studies even noted higher levels of phthalates, including DEHP, diapers and sanitary pads which could harm development or reproduction, according to the researchers.

Phthalates’ Impact on Health

Set of beauty and cosmetics icons

Uterine fibroids are the most common tumors in women, with around 80% experiencing them at some point. About a quarter of these cases cause symptoms like heavy bleeding, miscarriages, anemia, infertility, and large abdominal tumors needing complex surgeries, according to Northwestern University researchers.

Their study also shows that women exposed to certain phthalates, like DEHP, have a higher risk of symptomatic fibroids. While earlier research connected phthalates to fibroid growth, this study explains how these chemicals trigger tumor growth in women.

Scientists discovered that DEHP exposure can activate a hormonal pathway, which then triggers a receptor (AHR) that binds to DNA, leading to increased fibroid growth. “AHR was cloned in the early ’90s as the receptor for dioxin, the main toxin in agent orange,” said Bulun. Agent orange, used in the Vietnam war, caused serious reproductive issues, and dioxin and AHR were believed to be responsible.

Sadly, these harmful chemicals are all around us. Dr. Serdar Bulun, who led the study and is in charge of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine explained that the bad pollutants are in many things such as food packaging, hair & makeup products and more. Unfortunately, they’re not banned. They aren’t just bad for the environment, they can harm our bodies too.

Regular things we use let out DEHP, especially inside homes where it can end up on the floor or surfaces, settle in dust, and stay in the air. When used in food packaging, phthalates can get into the food – they’ve been found in products such as spices and milk prior.

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These chemicals can get into our bodies when we eat, breathe, touch our skin, or even just being around polluted air. Once inside, our bodies process and get rid of these phthalates through urine, which shows how much exposure we’ve had.

Health Risks and Urgent Need for Regulations

There’s been a cause for concern about the dangers of phthalates. Another study in 2021 found that being exposed to these chemicals for a long time could mess up the endocrine system and how many organs work. This could have lasting effects on pregnancy, kids’ growth, and their reproductive systems. Because these toxins mess with hormones, they might make it more likely for women to have miscarriages and gestational diabetes.

For kids, being around phthalates could make them start puberty early, affect how their brain develops, and even mess with how they socialize. But even with these concerns, these chemicals are used a lot in everyday things, and there aren’t many rules about it. In European Union countries, they’ve put some limits on how much phthalates can be in cosmetics, kids’ toys, electronics, and medical devices (less than 0.1%). In the US, DEHP, a common phthalate, is seen as a possible cause of cancer.

Some countries also have restrictions on using phthalates in kids’ toys, but they’re still used in many things, especially in food packaging and health products. Experts suggest there should be guidelines on labeling products with phthalates to help people know what’s in the things they use.

Knowing that phthalates can make uterine fibroids grow more, adds to what we already know about how harmful these chemicals can be. This shows we need better rules to limit how much we’re exposed to these toxins.

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