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Toxic Substance in Plastics are Found In Certain Medicines and Supplements

Updated on April 20, 2015

Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter

Researchers just recently announced that a substance found in plastics, previously linked to a number of health risks, has also been found in the outer coating of a substantial number of supplements, prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Researchers from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center and the Harvard School of Public Health have found a class of chemicals called phthalates as inactive ingredients in many medicines and dietary supplements. Their research findings have just been published online in Environmental Health Perspective and will soon be out in print.

Phthalates are used as plasticizers to increase the longevity, flexibility, and durability of plastics (#3 plastics). They are also used in a number of personal-care products, detergents, paint, printing ink, toys, modelling clay, medical devices, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, nail polish, cleaning products, perfumes, food packaging, and insecticides.

Are your medicines coated in plastic?

In this preliminary study, researchers found that over 100 drug and dietary supplement products contained phthalates.

This included:

  • 50 prescription drugs
  • 40 over-the-counter drugs
  • 26 dietary supplement products

The research indicates that this list may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Kathy Kelley, a research pharmacist in the study noted that:

“Given the thousands of orally-ingested products on the market (prescription, OTC and dietary supplements), it is difficult to know exactly how many contain phthalates."

The potential health risks of exposure to phthalates through medications is presently unknown. However, the health effects of long-term exposure to this class of chemicals from other sources is fairly well documented (see below).

A detailed list of which medications and supplements containing phthalates is not yet available but, there are some hints as to which medicines are more likely to contain these chemicals.

Medications that have been designed for slow breakdown or labeled as being a time release capsule or "coated" (safety-coated, film-coated, enteric-coated) are likely candidates.

The dangers of phthalates

Phthalates can be easily released into the environment.

While children are more susceptible to exposure than adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the population is commonly exposed to these chemicals and multiple types of phthalates are found in urine samples of both adults and children.

High doses in animal studies have been linked to changes in hormone levels, birth defects, and damage to the liver and testes.

In addition, phthalates have been linked to:

  • allergies in children
  • resistance to insulin (a precursor of Type 2 Diabetes)
  • low birth weight in infants
  • symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Reducing your family's exposure to phthalates

Air concentrations of phthalates is typically higher indoors than outdoors. Exposure can come from the air we breath, the foods we eat, and the products we touch or use on our skin.

While there is no way to avoid this class of chemicals 100% of the time, there are steps you can take to significantly reduce the level of exposure to you and your family.

Some quick tips:

  1. Air your house out frequently, especially when bringing in new plastics, carpeting, paint, and vinyl to your house
  2. Avoid cooking with plastics or reheating in plastics
  3. Avoid use of vinyl shower curtains and other soft plastics that off gas easily
  4. Avoid using air fresheners and home care products that are scented, including candles - scents are created using phthlates.
  5. Find safer personal care products and avoid anything that has a fragrance or "parfum" - see helpful link below.
  6. Make your own "green" cleaning products - see link below.

Related articles that you may find useful:

(click on the title to link out)

Toxic Chemicals in Personal Care Products are Linked to Childhood Obesity

Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics and Household Product Database (a non-profit working group database that rates the safety of common products used)

Should You Microwave Plastic? Is Your Water Safe If It Was In Your Car?

Resourceful Living - "Green Cleaning" General Recipes (a useful article with a number of options for making your own green and safe cleaning products)

Breast Cancer and BPA Exposure (a useful article exploring the link between another chemical found in plastics, BPA, and cancer)

Canned Food, Bottled Water, and BPA

Know Which of Your Vitamins and Medicines Contain Toxins


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Keri - thanks for sharing that link! I'm glad to hear that the EU is taking steps!

    • learner365 profile image

      Saadia A 6 years ago

      Wow this is informative and really not a good thing to discover.Such an eye opening Hub it is.

      Thank you for SHARING !!!

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 6 years ago from West of England

      I knew about phthalates in children's toys - the soft sort they so often chew on - and think this additive has been banned in infant's toys here now. Just checking ... okay, there is an EU directive that limits but not totally bans the use of certain phthalates. More specific info here: But I didn't know about their use in medicines or in scented candles and air fresheners. Although like many I avoid these anyway, as get instant reactions unless they're purely essential oil based. Very usefully informative hub, thank you.

    • loseweightmama profile image

      loseweightmama 6 years ago from Maine

      Yikes, it's scary how things we use everyday can be so bad for us. I'm glad we've always used natural cleaners and stay away from prescription drugs unless it's a last resort. Reading this makes me feel much better about our choices. I want to minimize my families risk as much as possible. Nice Hub

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 6 years ago from Texas

      Very informative hub Kriss. I've always worried about plastics. I'm very uncomfortable with using plastic in the microwave and with eating 'shiny' apples. I had never considered margarine - ugh.

      Thank you for sharing this enlightening info

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Brett.Tesol - thanks for stopping by and sharing with your followers and on social media. I agree - it's all very scary. We all naively assume everyday products we or general medicines are safe and that's quickly becoming clear that's not the case.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 6 years ago from Thailand

      Voted up, interesting and useful! Shared it with Followers and twitter ... scary!! The title drew me in and the article certainly lived up to the title.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @chefsref - thanks for stopping by. I've added a link out to your article within the hub. So many toxins out there - it's hard to keep track of them all!

    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Excellent source of info here Kris. I wrote a hub about BPA in our food supply that complements this Hub well. these issues show just how unsafe it is to use consumer products in the US. At least with food we have some choices available, buy fresh and let the manufacturers know you won't use their toxic products.

      Avoiding medicines may be a life threatening decision.

    • Julie-Ann Amos profile image

      Julie-Ann Amos 6 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK

      Great hub! I had no idea they were in medicines - sickening!

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 6 years ago

      SO right Polly...we need our FARMERS!!! It is so fustrating..Seem priorities are so messed up...The high cost of medical bills go up, as people get sicker..need to look at our food sources..they are killing us little by little

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @cclitgirl - I"m with you! I've been working towards changing food choices, cooking habits and home/personal care products.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 6 years ago from Western NC

      Great hub and voted up and away! Every time I do more research on the chemicals we use in our society, it makes me just want to go "all natural" - and use my own home-grown food, my own home-grown herbs, cook from scratch and never use plastic again. Hehehe...incidentally, I find this approach better for the planet, too. :D

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

      As Sunnie said I have for years heard they are in margarine. We need to start screaming at the FDA who put our farmers out of business with their high standards but it is OK to get theird world diseases and lead poisoning from Mexico and China! No restrictions there!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Debby Bruck - regarding your question as to whether the industry will every change.

      I think there are many watch groups out there are pushing for change but if it happens, it will be slow.

      I recall reading last year that one of the lead candidates for heading up the FDA was a former lobbyist for a large agricultural company. I haven't followed up to see what happened with that but IMHO that was a bad sign. Corporations have a lot of pull in policy and decision making which often isn't always in the best interest of the consumer's health.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 6 years ago from Indiana

      @Sunnie - thanks for that additional information. Most of our health care issues these days are related to the chemicals we are exposed to -it's so sad and hard to avoid.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 6 years ago

      Great article! Phthalates are fat soluble, so they also are in materials such as butter, margarine and cheese. We wonder why we are sick! Thanks again for such an informational hub.


    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks so much for this heads up on the possibility of our meds and supplements containing phthalates.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 6 years ago

      Kris ~ Wow! What next? I can't wait to learn more. I was expecting this to be about Bisphenol A in plastics, which I wrote a huge hub on last year. Very useful information here. Do you think industry will change? Debby

    • MikeSyrSutton profile image

      MikeSyrSutton 6 years ago from An uncharted galaxy

      There is no doubt that medications are not nearly as safe as we want to believe! Thanks for this eye opener!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      What a shocking situation. This is the problem with these issues. We have probably all been ingesting some of these compounds for years.

      I know whenever we had a new carpet laid they advised leaving the house for 24 hours, or at least leaving windows open, but it not always practical?

      Well presented Kris we need to be vigilant. Thanks for sharing voted up and shared.