Perspective from R. Thomas Zoeller, PhD
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Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
February 06, 2020
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Phthalates from plastics, personal care products influence testosterone levels among men

Perspective from R. Thomas Zoeller, PhD
Source/Disclosures
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Melanie Jacobson

Urinary biomarkers that detect the presence of phthalates were associated with testosterone concentrations among a representative sample of U.S. men, according to findings published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Interestingly, we found that the direction of these associations differed by the age of the men,” Melanie Jacobson, PhD, MPH, a research scientist in the division of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Medicine Center, told Healio. “For example, high-molecular phthalates, often used in plastic or polyvinyl products, were associated with lower testosterone concentrations among older men aged 60 years and older. However, low-molecular-weight phthalates, found in personal care products, were associated with lower testosterone concentrations among younger men aged 20 to 39 years.”

In a cross-sectional analysis, Jacobson and colleagues analyzed data from 1,420 men not taking sex hormone medications who participated in the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (65.29% white; median BMI, 28.4 kg/m²; 38% with obesity). Researchers stratified men by three age group: aged 20 to 39 years (n = 488), aged 40 to 59 years (n = 459) and aged at least 60 years (n = 482). Researchers investigated the association between urinary phthalate metabolites and total testosterone, estradiol and sex hormone-binding globulin, as well as free testosterone, bioavailable testosterone and free androgen index (FAI), examined as log-transformed continuous variables.

The researchers found that phthalate metabolites were not associated with sex hormone concentrations among all men; however, associations varied by age. Among men aged 20 to 39 years, low-molecular-weight phthalates were associated with a median 4.76% lower free testosterone (95% CI, –8.62 to –0.75) and a median 4.6% lower bioavailable testosterone (95% CI, –8.55 to –0.47). However, among men aged 40 to 59 years, low-molecular-weight phthalates were associated with higher free and bioavailable testosterone, and there was no association between low-molecular-weight phthalates and testosterone among men aged at least 60 years.

Doctor male patient middle age 2019 
Urinary biomarkers that detect the presence of phthalates were associated with testosterone concentrations among a representative sample of U.S. men.
Source: Adobe Stock

In contrast, high-molecular-weight phthalates were associated with lower total testosterone, free testosterone, bioavailable testosterone, estradiol and FAI levels among men aged at least 60 years.

“For example, for a doubling in high-molecular-weight phthalates, we estimated 4.92% lower testosterone (95% CI, –9.79 to 0.21), 4.68% lower free testosterone (95% CI, –8.4 to –0.81), 5.02% lower bioavailable testosterone (95% CI, –8.57 to –1.32), 3.74% lower estradiol (95% CI, –7.65 to 0.34) and 4.08% lower FAI (95% CI, –7.68 to –0.33%),” the researchers wrote.

There were no associations between high-molecular-weight phthalates and hormone concentrations observed for men younger than 60 years,

High-molecular-weight phthalates were associated with lower total, free and bioavailable testosterone among men aged at least 60 years.

“Our study was cross-sectional, which means that the exposures and outcomes were measured at the same time,” Jacobson said. “This makes it difficult to find out if the exposure caused the outcome. Studies focusing on times of hormonal flux, such as puberty, are important, as these may represent windows of increased vulnerability to environmental exposures such as phthalates.” – by Regina Schaffer

For more information:

Melanie Jacobson, PhD, MPH, can be reached at NYU School of Medicine, Division of Environmental Pediatrics, 403 E. 34th St., New York, NY 10016; email: melanie.jacobson2@nyulangone.org.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.