Phthalates are chemicals found in everything from plastic products to soap to nail polish—they give plastic its bendy stretch. But growing research shows that these chemicals could be harming people’s health, said the study’s lead author Lei Yin, an assistant research scientist in the UGA College of Public Health’s department of environmental health science.
“Phthalate exposure can be closely associated with the rise of different types of disease development,” Yin said.
Because levels of phthalates were found in human fluids in previous studies, the researchers wanted to see if a specific phthalate, benzyl butyl phthalate, or BBP, had an effect on the accumulation of fat in cells. Their findings were published in Toxicology in Vitro.
The researchers used mouse cells to create in vitro models to analyze how exposure to BBP affected the way oils and fats, known as lipids, accumulated within the cells.
“Obesity is one of the big issues in humans now, and of course genetic components can contribute to the development of obesity,” said study co-author Xiaozhong “John” Yu, an assistant professor of environmental health science. “However, environmental exposure may also contribute to obesity.”
Some phthalates have proven to cause reproductive toxicity at high levels of exposure, but the link between low-level exposure and BBP hadn’t yet been thoroughly explored, Yin explained.
“It could be that some chemicals at a very low dose and over a long period time, which is known as chronic exposure, can cause more harmful diseases or effects,” she said.