Phthalates, as plasticisers, are ubiquitous in the environment, found in everyday objects such as cosmetics, packaging, pharmaceutical pills, children’s toys, shampoos, detergents etc. In fact, phthalates are so pervasive that measurable levels of many metabolites are found in the urine of the general American population.
Phthalates are easily leached into the environment due to its structure; the process is hastened as plastics age and breakdown. Exposure of humans occurs largely through diet and through contact with phthalate containing materials.
Phthalate exposures in laboratory animals have been show to affect the reproductive system leading to disruptions of hormones and could be endocrine disruptors. Phthalates have also been linked to behavioral disorders in children. Previously in our blog, we discussed how phthalate exposure in expectant mothers could lead to aggression, conduct problems, attention problems, and depression in children. Now a new study by scientists from George Washington University, USA, explored the effect of a phthalate Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) on cardiomyocytes (cells that comprise the heart muscles). DEHP is found in a range of products such as building materials, medical devices, paints and adhesives and also found in food products due to leaching during food production and storage. The researchers found that Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP ) can cause changes in metabolic processes in the cardiomyocytes by increasing the genes that are involved in the transport of fatty acids, oxygen consumption etc.
So what are the implications of this finding? Dependence of the cardiomyocytes to fatty acids for energy production could lead to an abundance of lipid intermediates and reactive oxygen species. Phthalate induced change in the heart muscle cells could lead the heart to be sensitive to injury caused by reduced oxygen and also cause dysfunction of ventricles which could lead to a range of heart diseases resulting in heart failure.
Posnack NG, Swift LM, Kay MW, Lee NH, & Sarvazyan N (2012). Phthalate Exposure Changes the Metabolic Profile of Cardiac Muscle Cells. Environmental health perspectives PMID: 22672789