Fast food may be doing more than increasing than your waistline. A US study has found that people who reported eating more fast food were exposed to higher levels of phthalates, potentially harmful chemicals that have been shown to damage the reproductive system and may lead to infertility. Researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, US, looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the previous 24 hours. The participants also provided researchers with a urinary sample which was tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates, DEHP and DINP. Participants with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 per cent higher levels of DEHP metabolites and nearly 40 per cent higher levels of DINP metabolites in their urine compared to people who ate no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing. The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used in food packaging materials, tubing used in the dairy industry and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and contaminate highly processed food. “Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults,” says lead author Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health. Lowering cholesterol by using vegetable oils may not curb heart disease risk or help you live longer For decades we’ve been told that replacing saturated fat in our diet with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid – such as peanut and corn oils – will reduce cardiovascular deaths by lowering blood cholesterol levels. But a new study that reanalysed data from previous randomised controlled trials has found weak support for the widely held “diet-heart hypothesis”. In The BMJ ( British Medical Journal ), the researchers conclude that their findings “add to growing evidence that incomplete publication has contributed to overestimation of the benefits of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid.” The researchers looked at recovered data from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment that took place 45 years ago, which followed 9,423 participants from state mental hospitals and a nursing home for up to four and a half years. Participants who had a diet enriched with linoleic acid (corn oil) had lower cholesterol levels but had higher risk of death compared to a control group who ate a diet high in saturated fat. The researchers also note that, although small amounts of linoleic acid are essential for health, high intakes are not natural to human diets, and preliminary evidence links by-products of linoleic acid to chronic pain and other diseases. Being married may help prolong survival in cancer patients New research has uncovered a link between being married and living longer among cancer patients, indicating the beneficial effect of social support. Published online in the journal Cancer, the study assessed information on about 800,000 adults in California who were diagnosed between 2000 and 2009 with invasive cancer and were followed until 2012. The investigators found that death rates among unmarried cancer patients were higher – 27 per cent higher among males and 19 per cent higher among females – than among married patients. These patterns were minimally explained by greater economic resources among married patients, including having private health insurance and living in higher socioeconomic status neighbourhoods. Among men and women, whites benefited the most from being married while Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders benefited less. Also, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islanders who were born in the US experienced a greater benefit than those born outside the country. The researchers suggest doctors and other health professionals who treat unmarried cancer patients should ask if there is someone within their social network available to help them physically and emotionally.