Phthalate Chemicals Linked with High Cholesterol and Heart Disease: Study

The results of a new scientific study have demonstrated that exposure to plastic-associated chemicals such as base chemical bisphenol A and phthalate plasticizers, can increase the risk of human cardiovascular disease.

Study overview

Researchers found a phthalate — a chemical used to make plastics more durable — led to increased plasma cholesterol levels. More specifically, the phthalate “DCHP” chemical elicits high cholesterol by targeting intestinal PXR signaling*.  DCHP, is a widely used phthalate plasticizer, and has recently been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a high-priority substance for risk evaluation. Not much is known yet about DCHP’s adverse effects in humans.

“Our results provide insights and new understandings of the impact of plastic-associated chemicals on high cholesterol — or dyslipidemia — and cardiovascular disease risk.”

-Dr. C. Zhou, scientific researcher and professor, University of California, Riverside School of Medicine

The scientific team also found that mice exposed to the phthalate chemical “DCHP” had in their intestines higher circulating “ceramides” — a class of waxy lipid molecules associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk in humans — in a way that was PXR-dependent.

“This, too, points to the potentially important role of PXR in contributing to the harmful effects of plastic-associated chemicals on cardiovascular health in humans.”

*PXR, (or pregnane X) is a receptor. The study has demonstrated that phthalate chemical “DCHP” ‘turns on’ PXR in the gut, inducing the expression of key proteins required for cholesterol absorption and transport.

Journal Reference:  Yipeng Sui, Zhaojie Meng, Jianzhong Chen, Jingwei Liu, Rebecca Hernandez, Miko B. Gonzales, Taesik Gwag, Andrew J. Morris, Changcheng Zhou. Effects of Dicyclohexyl Phthalate Exposure on PXR Activation and Lipid Homeostasis in Mice. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2021; 129 (12) DOI: 10.1289/EHP9262