Food served or bought from restaurants, cafeteria, and fast food joints may contain levels of potentially dangerous chemicals up to 40 percent higher than those present in food prepared at home.

Findings of a new study, which was published in the journal Environment International, have suggested that the more people dine out, the more they get exposed to these potentially toxic chemicals. They also provided new evidence that should encourage people to prepare meals at home.

"People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher," study researcher Ami Zota, from George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health said. "Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults."

What Are Phthalates?

The study looked at the link between dining out and levels of phthalates in the body. Phthalates, also known as plasticizers, are a group of chemicals that make plastics more flexible and harder to break.

They are also recognized as endocrine disrupting chemicals, which means they can interfere with the body's hormones.

Phthalates are used in a range of products including detergents, automotive plastics, personal-care products such as hair sprays and nail polishes, and food packaging.

People get exposed to these chemicals by consuming food that has been in contact with products and containers that contain phthalates.

Effects Of Phthalates On People's Health

Although there are uncertainties on the effects of low levels of phthalates on human health, some types of phthalates have been shown to affect the reproductive system of animals.

The World Health Organization has said that there is still more work to be done regarding the link between human health and these chemicals. Nonetheless, the United Nation agency has said that EDCs and potential EDCs have been suspected to be associated with abnormal growth patterns, increased incidence of breast cancer, and altered reproductive function.

Experts also said that there is enough evidence that shows exposure to phthalates during fetal development and puberty may contribute to a range of complications, which include fertility issues, asthma, lower IQ, and genital birth defects. Exposure in adults may also increase the risk for cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer's disease.

"EDCs have the capacity to interfere with tissue and organ development and function, and therefore they may alter susceptibility to different types of diseases throughout life," they wrote in a 2012 report.

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