Odds are that most people have leftovers sitting in their refrigerator in a plastic container, and plan to reheat them in a microwave. This may not be such a great idea. A new study shows that microwaving food in plastic containers, as well as using plastic stretch wrap, cosmetics and other products, may lead to an increased risk for developing diabetes and high blood pressure. However, it is not necessary to throw out that Tupperware or Rubbermaid just yet.
Reheating food in a plastic storage container has been shown to unleash toxic chemicals into the food. Some of those chemicals have been shown to cause insulin resistance and high blood pressure, both of which are known to lead to diabetes. Although plastic containers do leach a small amount of chemicals into food which sits inside, even without reheating, the study did not show a significant impact on the body when the containers are used for their intended purpose of storage.
It is when heating food in plastic containers in the microwave, and to some degree using hot water in the dishwasher, that chemicals in the plastic escape. “Heating enhances contamination,” according to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center professor involved with the study, which was published in the American Heart Association publication, Hypertension.
Focusing on the impact on children and teens, the population which would clearly have the longest “lifelong effects” from exposure going forward, the research team studied two of the compounds in plastics, di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), both of which were introduced into the production process within the last 10 years.
For their study, the NYU team examined blood and urine samples collected between 2008 and 2012 from 356 children and adolescents who were 12- to 19-years old. The blood was measured and evaluated for phthalates and glucose based on urinary levels of the substances. Diet, ethnicity, gender, levels of physical activity, family income and other factors known to affect the risk for diabetes, including insulin resistance and hypertension, were also factored into the analysis. Researchers also quantified exposure to common phthalates, particularly dietary contamination, as shown in the kids’ urine.
It should be noted that these two substances were introduced into the making of plastic because the previous chemical used, di-2-ethylhexylphlatate or DEHP, was found to be dangerous, too. Many products are not tested for health issues until something warrants the investigation. As Trasande noted, “Our study adds further concern for the need to test chemicals for toxicity prior to their broad and widespread use, which is not required under current federal law.”
This is not the first NYU study published to show health issues such as diabetes tied to the replacement chemicals. A study released in May in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism also demonstrated a “significant association” between high blood pressure and the chemicals. Trasande noted that the studies indicated potential health risks from the DEHP replacements, and continued to indicate concerns with plastics used in food preparation.
The researchers emphasize that further longitudinal studies are needed to delve deeper into the associations uncovered. In the meantime, to minimize exposure to phthalates, they suggest avoiding the use of plastic containers which bear the numbers 3, 6 or 7 inside of the recycle symbol on the bottom. In addition, to ensure that leftover food may not eventually lead to diabetes, or at least increase the risk factors, avoid microwaving it in a plastic container or putting the plastic in a hot dishwasher.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Hypertension: Association of Exposure to Di-2-Ethylhexylphthalate Replacements With Increased Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents
Science Daily: Phthalates: ‘Safer’ replacements for harmful chemical in plastics may be as risky to human health
Medical Daily: Microwave Oven Safety: New Study Shows Microwaving Food Can Lead To Diabetes
New York Daily News: Microwaving food in plastic linked to diabetes, other problems: study
Today: Is microwaving in plastic safe? Tips to reduce your risk
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