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14 July 2005
New Warning On Plastics Ingredient
by George Atkinson

Phthalates, chemicals present in a variety of plastics and beauty products, are causing concern for many scientists who believe that they may be connected to a variety of reproductive disorders. In previous research at the University of Rochester, it was found that pregnant women who used beauty products containing phthalates gave birth to male babies with smaller genitals. These reproductive disorders, and their link to phthalates, are considered serious enough for several U.S. senators to call for changes in the way chemicals are regulated in the U.S. marketplace to better protect children, workers and consumers.

Now, new research from Indiana State University has implicated phthalates with the disease lupus. Lupus is an auto-immune disease causing the immune system to attack the body's own tissues. It can lead to serious problems with the heart, kidneys lungs and blood cells. The study, published in the Journal of Autoimmunity found that mice with a genetic disposition to the disease developed lupus when injected with phthalates.

The lupus-associated anti-DNA antibody was only studied in mice but there are indications that humans could also be susceptible. "Our findings clearly show that lupus can be caused by an environmental factor like phthalate, which is present in toys, in many other plastic products, including PVC pipes and medical devices, and in beauty products," said researcher Swapan K. Ghosh.

Lupus is more common in women than men, which leads researchers to speculate that cosmetics may be the link. "Lupus type auto-immunity is five times more common in women than in men," said co-researcher So-Yon Lim. "Is that because women use a lot more cosmetics and perfumes than men?"

The researchers said that more studies are needed given the widespread use of phthalates. They believe that particular attention to the prevalence of lupus in areas where plastics and beauty products are manufactured is warranted. "We want to find out whether this really is a matter of great potential health hazard or whether it is something that could be moderated," they said in conclusion.

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