Believe it or not, an estimated one-third of your patients have eaten some form of fast food within 24 hours of their appointment with you. That's just the beginning of the bad news from a new study titled, "Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures Among the U.S. Population in NHANES, 2003-2010," referenced in a recent article in The Washington Post.1-2
In addition to obesity, diabetes and the other potential negative effects of regular fast-food consumption, you can now add the hazards (both known and unknown) from the unwanted consumption of phthalates, "a class of high-production-volume industrial chemicals that are ubiquitously used in commerce," specifically in food handling and packaging.
The study found "evidence of a positive, dose-response relationship between fast food intake and exposure to phthalates." The authors note that "participants with high consumption (≥ 34.9% Total Energy Intake from fast food) had 23.8% and 39.0% higher levels of EDEHPm (DEHP) and DiNPm, (DiNP) respectively, than non-consumers."
The study goes on to explain that "human exposure to DEHP has been associated with adverse reproductive, neurobehavioral, and respiratory outcomes in children and metabolic disease risk factors such as insulin resistance in adolescents and adults.3-4 Though epidemiologic evidence of DiNP is less complete, recent studies report associations between exposure and similar health outcomes including adverse respiratory and metabolic outcomes in children."5-6
In addition to the above, The Washington Post article identifies another study that concluded: "(DEHP) can also negatively affect child behavior."7 As we all know, the above dangers of these two phthalates are only what is known now. We may never understand the total impact on our health of these or other chemicals used to process and package our food. (You should know that "urinary metabolites of DEHP and DiNP are detected in 98% of the US general population."8)
Fast Food: What We Know (and Don't Know) Could Kill Us
This study (along with the article in The Washington Post) opens up a brand-new understanding of the processed-food health crisis that has been quietly assaulting our nation. ADHD, diabetes, autism, allergies, male erectile dysfunction / infertility and many other current plagues may be at least partially caused not only by the food we eat, but also by how it is processed and packaged.
So, while McDonald's may finally inform you of the total fat, sodium, cholesterol, carbs and protein in its 540-calorie Big Mac, it isn't required to share information on the industrial chemicals that may be slowly killing us.
But there is a reality here that reaches far beyond: We, as a population, are (and will in all likelihood remain) largely uninformed about the substances and processes used to preserve and process our food.
It is unlikely the information I've illuminated here will cause us all to dig gardens and swear off fast food forever, although both are a great idea from a health perspective. The good news is our bodies do heal themselves and can thus tolerate a small amount of ingested insults with hopefully minimal recovery effort. But it is even more clear to me that consuming greater amounts of fresh, organic food is not only healthier, but also safer.
My Job – And Yours
Much of the food we eat these days is eerily similar to over-the-counter and prescription drugs: replete with dangerous side effects, the majority of which will not be known until they have already caused considerable harm to the health of millions. My job is to share this information with you and the almost 300,000 consumers who subscribe to our free To Your Health e-newsletter.
Your job is to have these kinds of conversations with your patients and help them make better choices.
- Zota AR, Phillips CA, Mitro SD. Recent fast food consumption and Bisphenol A and phthalates exposures among the U.S. population in NHANES, 2003-2010. Environ Health Perspect; advance publication April 13, 2016.
- Ferdman RA. "Researchers Have Found a 'Striking' New Side Effect From Eating Fast Food." The Washington Post, April 15, 2016.
- Braun JM, Sathyanarayana S, Hauser R. Phthalate exposure and children's health. Curr Opin Pediatr, 2013;25:247-254.
- Ejaredar M, Nyanza EC, Ten Eycke K, Dewey D. Phthalate exposure and children's neurodevelopment: a systematic review. Environ Res, 2015;142:51-60.
- James-Todd T, Stahlhut R, Meeker JD, Powell S-G, Hauser RB, Huang T, et al. Urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and diabetes among women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2001-2008. Environ Health Perspect, 2012;120:1307-1313.
- Trasande L, Attina TM. 2015. Association of exposure to di-2-ethylhexylphthalate replacements with increased insulin resist-
ance in adolescents from NHANES, 2009-2012. J Clin Endocrinol Metab; published online May 15, 2016.
- Arbucklea TE, Davisa K, Boylanb K, Fishera M, Fua J. Bisphenol A, phthalates and lead and learning and behavioral problems in Canadian children 6–11 years of age: CHMS 2007–2009. Neurotoxicol, May 2016;54:89-98.
- Zota AR, Calafat AM, Woodruff TJ. Temporal trends in phthalate exposures: findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001–2010. Environ Health Perspect, 2014;122:235-241.
Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.