Between the 1980 and 2010, the rate of diabetes diagnoses in women doubled. Though many factors, such as increased body mass index, may be a contributor to the phenomenon, some believe there are other factors involved. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have found a possible association between high concentrations of phthalates, a common ingredient in personal beauty products, and increased diabetes risk in women.
To give a little background on this study, previous studies have shown that women tend to have higher concentrations of phthalate metabolites in urine samples than men. Phthalates are a class of chemicals used in many products. Examples include food packaging, cosmetics, perfumes, nail polishes, and industrial products. Because of the ever increasing use of these chemicals, more than 75% of the U.S. population have detectable levels of phthalates. The higher levels in women have been attributed to higher use of personal care products however, few studies have been done to see if there might be a correlation between phthalate metabolites and diabetes risk in women.
Tamarra James-Todd, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Women’s Health at BWH, led this study and set out to see if indeed there were any correlation between high phthalate metabolites and diabetes risk in women. She analyzed data received from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2008. After certain women were excluded for sociodemographic and behavioral factors, the total number ended up being about 2,350 women included in the study. According to the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, “women with higher urine levels of MnBP, MiBP, MBzP, MCPP, and ΣDEHP [phthalates] were more likely to have reported diabetes than women with the lowest levels, even after accounting for sociodemographic, behavioral, and dietary factors.”
This is an interesting study as it is the first of its kind to make such a correlation between a common chemical used in cosmetics and diabetes risk in women. However, I personally wouldn’t sound the alarm just yet. One thing this study didn’t account for was the fact that “phthalates also exist in certain types of medical devices and medication that is used to treat diabetes and this could also explain the higher level of phthalates in diabetic women.” In my opinion, that is big issue that needs to be addressed. For instance, it would be interesting to see what phthalate levels look like in women who are newly diagnosed with diabetes and haven’t started any prescription regimen. The author of the study also did admit that this is just a first step and that more research should be done.