In Part 1 of this 2 part blog, we defined phthalates and discussed sources. Here we’ll be focusing on avoiding exposure as well as boosting the body’s natural ability to detoxify them out of our system. Simple lifestyle and dietary changes can go a long way in helping offset the dangers of phthalate exposure. If you missed the background and would like to learn more, go ahead and read Phthalates Part 1: What they are and how they affect your health. Otherwise let’s march on!
Below we’ll detail some simple steps to help reduce health risk from phthalates.
But first, to understand how to best manage phthalate exposure, we have to have a basic lesson in metabolism. In the human body, phthalates are known to be metabolized via several pathways that include the kidney/urine and the liver. We also know that phthalates have a high affinity for fat, and are stored in the adipose/fat tissue. This concentration in fat tissue is why it’s found in fatty animal foods.
The enzymes most responsible for breaking down phthalates are lipases and esteraces predominately found in the GI tract, specifically in the mucosa of the intestines and the pancreas. There are also enzymes in the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and in the plasma, however these are not as abundant. These enzymes produce a toxic metabolite known as MEHP which can cause damage before being further broken down by a two-step process (phase I hydrolysis and phase II conjugation) to metabolites that are readily excreted via urine and feces.
Oral absorption of phthalates is thought to be the most hazardous because of the increased potential for production of toxic metabolite. Topical and inhaled forms are not metabolized as readily, and therefore have a lower incidence of toxicity, though topical exposure can still be significantly cumulative and harmful.
Avoiding exposure and improving health outcomes
Reducing health risks is a two-part process, first reducing exposure and second boosting our body’s ability to eliminate the toxin.
First, reduce phthalate exposure:
- Avoid plastic food and beverage containers, especially with the recycling symbol 3. Opt instead for glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood to hold and store foods instead of plastics. Be especially to avoid storing and warming food in plastic containers since phthalates leach especially when heated.
- When choosing animal products, reduce intake of high fat dairy products and choose low fat or trimmed meat, and skinless breast over fattier poultry options.
- Opt for fresh or frozen whole foods over canned and processed foods.
- Avoid toys made from phthalate treated plastics, especially for young children who are teething and tend to chew or suck on toys.
- Check the labels of your personal care products and avoid products that contain phthalates. Opt for natural care products whenever possible.
- Avoid tracking dust and dirt from contaminated soil, take shoes off at the front door and vacuum and wet dust frequently to minimize chemical exposure from dust and tracked–in dirt
- Aside from avoiding phthalate exposure there are ways to help boost your body’s ability to handle them. It’s nearly impossible to control 100% of our environment and exposure, but working with our body’s natural ability to detoxify and keep us healthy can go a long way in protecting us from risk.
- Certain foods are beneficial for boosting detoxification, including phase I and phase II pathways, for example cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale and Brussel’s sprouts), B-vitamin-rich leafy greens, and conjugation substrates like grapefruit, lemon and oranges.
- Hydrating with filtered water daily is important to ensure adequate flushing.
- Regular, daily bowl movements are important for ensuring that phthalates (and other toxins) are removed from the system. Furthermore, maintaining healthy gut flow and function maintains healthy levels of the important enzymes needed to break down toxins.
- Adding a variety of antioxidant-rich foods can help protect from cellular damage that leads to disease. Foods such as blueberries and cranberries, as well as compounds like vitamin C, E, quercitin and NAC can be found in organic whole foods as well as in high quality supplements.
- Fiber acts like a web that catches toxins in the gut and pulls them out for elimination. High fiber foods like vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and seeds can be very beneficial for improving regularity, trapping toxins, and even balancing hormones.
- Recent evidence points to resveratrol and curcumin being effective in helping offset the effects of phthalate toxicity. Load up on foods that contain these antioxidants including cranberries, red grapes, and turmeric. Ask your Integrative practitioner for recommendations of high quality supplements that contain these key nutrients.
- Utilize herbs (under the guidance of an expert) to support in the detoxification process. Milk thistle is an herb widely used to help support the liver to improve function and protect it from damage. Used daily as a whole herb or tea can be helpful for boosting liver function and protecting it from damage. Dandelion root is another herb that is helpful for promoting detoxification that can be added to juice, taken as a tea or whole herb. Uva-ursi, celery root and parsley are also particularly beneficial for supporting the kidneys and promoting flushing.
- Consider working with a functional medicine practitioner to evaluate your level of exposure and plan a detox. He/she can outline a plan both to reduce exposure to phthalates as well as implement a detoxification protocol to help you reduce risk.
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