Exposure to Phthalates Found in Consumer Products May Promote Uterine Fibroid Growth

By Tamara Thomas - Last Updated: June 21, 2023

High exposure to certain phthalates found in various everyday consumer products increases the risk of having a symptomatic fibroid, delaying the rate at which they die, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fibroid tumors affect approximately eighty percent of women at some point. Of those affected, twenty-five percent experience symptoms such as uncontrolled uterine bleeding, anemia, infertility, miscarriages, and large abdominal tumors.

Dr. Serdar Bulun and colleagues at Northwestern Medicine carried out the study. For this study, the researchers sought to demonstrate a causal link between environmental phthalates, particularly di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)—one of the most widely used phthalates—and uterine tumor growth among women.

DEHP is commonly found in everyday products such as floor tiles, packaging film and sheets, tablecloths, rainwear, furniture upholstery, shower curtains, garden hoses, toys, shoes, automobile upholstery, medical tubing, and others. 

Once in the body, DEHP is broken down into several metabolites, including mono (2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate (MEHHP). 

For this study, the researchers collected uterine cells of women undergoing hysterectomy or myomectomy (a surgical procedure that removes the fibroid while keeping the uterus intact). They then exposed these cells to nine phthalate metabolites.

The researchers found that exposure of uterine cells to DEHP could activate a hormonal pathway, which activates an environmentally responsive receptor (AHR) that binds to DNA and facilitates the increased growth of fibroids. They also found that fibroid cells exposed to MEHHP grew faster than cells treated with other DEHP metabolites. 

“These toxic pollutants are everywhere, including food packaging, hair, and makeup products, and more, and their usage is not banned,” Dr. Bulun wrote. “These are more than simply environmental pollutants. They can cause specific harm to human tissues.” 

Source: Northwestern University News

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