I’ve talked about BPA before, a chemical found mainly in plastics that poses a big threat to your hormones and therefore your masculinity. Recently, information has surfaced about another group of chemicals—also found in plastics and personal health care products, among other places—that may be even worse than BPA and can massively affect your health.
“Phthalates” are even more of an insult to your system than they are to my spell- checker. They belong to the same class of pollutants as BPA, called “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs). And although phthalates have been studied extensively (and declared “safe,” predictably, by interested parties), the true extent of the dangers they present is only now coming to light.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, “exposure to phthalates, chemicals found in plastics and personal care products, is associated with reduced androgen levels and associated disorders.” The study found that the presence of high levels of these chemicals in the urine of test subjects was associated with significantly reduced testosterone levels in all the populations tested— men and women, young and old. There was a particularly pronounced reduction in boys ages six to twelve and men ages forty to sixty, for whom exposure was linked to a 13 percent decrease in T levels.
No pollutants are good, of course—but for men hoping to hang on to their masculinity hormones, phthalates are particularly nasty: the highest levels of phthalates are associated with all kinds of side effects from breast growth to infertility. So you’re smart to keep these pollutants out of your home as much as possible, and away from your family as well. The trouble is, they’re almost everywhere. Here’s a quick list of a few places you’re likely to find these chemicals:
- Plastic food and beverage containers, especially plastic-wrapped foods, such as meats and other produce
- Hair spray and hair gels
- Anything fragranced (soap, shampoo, air fresheners, laundry detergent, aftershave, face and hand lotions). If it’s scented, you can bet it contains phthalates and other EDCs
- Insect repellent
- Cosmetic products
- Cleaning products.
- Carpets and carpet cleaners
- New cars (that “new car smell” is nothing but the fine scent of phthalates)
- Vinyl flooring
- Shower curtains.
- Plastic toys
- Steering wheels, dashboards, gearshifts
- Plastic sex toys
- Sexual lubricants like K-Y Jelly
- Cream-based dairy products.
- Pesticides found on conventionally raised fruits and vegetables.
Get the picture? Short of going off the grid, it’s hard to imagine a life without some exposure to phthalates—which is probably why they are found in the urine of 95 percent of people tested.
So the key is to get rid of as many of the highest-risk items as possible, using these few quick-and-dirty steps:
- Go fragrance-free. Don’t use anything on your body or in your home that has a fake-smelling odor. Clear out all scented cleaning and personal body products, and look for brands that are fragrance-free or that are made using natural plant-based oils—or that carry the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment seal. Use plain bar soap for shaving (see below) and coconut oil for moisturizing. Go all-natural for your shampoos and conditioners, and ditch the aftershave.
- Store food only in metal or glass. Avoid any packaging with the 3, 6, and 7 recycling codes. Packaging with these codes usually contain phthalates or BPA. Instead, look for recycling codes 1, 2, 4, and 5, especially for anything in which you carry, store, or cook food. Mason jars are great for leftovers. Use stainless steel containers like the Klean Kanteen for drinking water.
- Microwave in glass. Forget “microwave safe”: get some solid, high-quality glass or stainless steel containers for heating your food. Even supposedly “safe” plastics can leach EDCs into your foods at higher temperatures.
- Go organic. Conventional agriculture is full of phthalates, thanks to pesticides—but not organic produce and meat. Get the good stuff whenever you can afford it. And avoid all meats that are wrapped in plastic—especially chicken—which often sit for days on display fermenting in E. coli bacteria. Buy the fresh cuts and get them wrapped in BPA-free paper. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Use non-synthetic bar soap. Antibacterial soaps and body washes often contain triclocarban, another EDC that has been associated with testosterone disruption and prostate enlargement. Use a good old-fashioned non-scented bar soap. You get the same cleanup without the side effects.
- Go filtered. Filter your water. It may not be perfect—some EDCs may still get through despite the filtering—but it’s at least an ounce of prevention against some of the phthalates that show up in public drinking water.
- Say N-O to the K-Y. Processed sexual lubricants contain chemicals linked to infertility, decreased sperm levels, and other endocrine-related disorders—not the stuff you want to be thinking about during sex. As an alternative, use coconut oil—it’s antibacterial and a great lubricant, and it tastes a lot better than K-Y. It’s also a great source of saturated fats that you can ingest in ways limited only by your imagination!