A new study from the University of Leipzig suggests that exposure to di-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate (DEHP) — a chemical used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break, and often used in plastic packaging for food — can negatively impact insulin sensitivity and lead to weight gain.
The chemicals, often called plasticizers, can be leached from packaging materials through skin exposure, inhalation, or ingestion.
In the study, researchers found that environmental pollutants like these plasticizers exposed subjects to the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance, and increased body weight.
Apart from food packaging, plasticizers are also found in vinyl flooring, wall covering, plastic bags and covers, cosmetics, and toys.
When tested on mice, researchers found that female mice exposed to DEHP “showed a significantly greater weight gain and developed impaired insulin sensitivity,” while male mice were not affected.
The method by which plasticizers disrupt hormonal balance is still unclear, but the research suggests that consumers, especially women, are at greater risk for developing obesity-related issues in connection with DEHP and other phthalates.