Article image

Study confirms: plastics contribute to heart disease

Researchers at the University of California Riverside, led by biomedical scientist Changcheng Zhou, have found evidence that plastics contribute to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease

Scientists already knew that exposure to some plastic chemicals, such as bisphenol A and phthalate plasticizers, may increase risk of heart disease in humans. To understand the cause of this potential link, Zhou and his team used a mouse model. 

After exposing mice to dangerous chemicals, it was found that phthalate – a chemical used to make plastics stronger – is associated with higher levels of plasma cholesterol levels. 

“We found dicyclohexyl phthalate, or DCHP, strongly binds to a receptor called pregnane X receptor, or PXR,” said Zhou. “DCHP ‘turns on’ PXR in the gut, inducing the expression of key proteins required for cholesterol absorption and transport. Our experiments show that DCHP elicits high cholesterol by targeting intestinal PXR signaling.”

The study is the first to identify the link between exposure to DCHP, high cholesterol levels, and heart disease. 

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to show the effects of DCHP exposure on high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk in mouse models,” said Zhou.

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

Beyond simple high cholesterol, the scientists discovered that the mice exposed to DCHP also had higher levels of ceramides – waxy lipid molecules that are also associated with elevated risk of heart disease. 

“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,” said Zhou.

The study highlights yet another serious threat associated with plastics, adding to a rapidly growing collection of environmental and health issues. 

The study is published in the journal Public Health Perspectives.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day