Are Chemicals and Toxins Making You Fat?

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Did you know there are foreign chemical compounds in our environment which can disrupt normal development and balance of lipid metabolism, which in some cases lead to obesity?

They are found in various food containers, baby bottles, toys, plastics, cookware and cosmetics. When these chemicals enter your body, they can disrupt its normal function and promote fat gain. Obesogens are a category of endocrine disruptors — chemicals that can interfere with your hormones.

Some endocrine disruptors exert their effects by activating oestrogen receptors, which can cause harmful effects in both women and men. Oestrogen receptors are thought to be “promiscuous,” meaning that they will bind to anything that looks even remotely like an oestrogen.

Some obesogens have not only been linked to obesity, but also to birth defects, premature puberty in girls, demasculinization in men, breast cancer and other disorders.

Unfortunately, many of these effects happen in the womb. For example, when pregnant women are exposed to these chemicals, their child’s risk of becoming obese later in life may increase.

One of the early origins of the toxic hypothesis of weight gain was the observation that rats became obese when exposed to tributyltin (an anti-fouling paint used on the hulls of ships and now ubiquitous in aqueous ecosystems across the planet). The researchers found that tributyltin acted by stimulating PPAR gamma, a master activator of fat cell development. This research led the authors to first propose the ground breaking term ‘obesogen’.

One of the biggest classes of obesogens are the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – including organochlorines, organophosphates, organobromines and dioxins (found as pesticides, insecticides, flame retardants, and industrial contaminants, respectively). POPs are known to effectively render insulin signalling redundant, blocking intracellular signal transduction and preventing the insulin- stimulated expression of glucose transporters on cells.

While the effects of POPs and plasticisers is becoming increasingly recognised, even air pollution could be making us fat. A 2016 study in rats showed how animals exposed to polluted Beijing air for just three weeks weighed 15% more than those provided with filtered air, with the researchers proposing that the pollution-related inflammation in the lungs had systemic consequences, leading to metabolic dysfunction and weight gain.

Here are the top 5 obesogenic chemicals that may be present in your home at this very moment;

1) Bisphenol-A (BPA)

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic compound found in many types of products, including baby bottles, plastic food and beverage containers, as well as metal food cans. It has been in commercial use for many decades, but recent studies have shown that high levels may cause harm to both lab animals and humans.

BPA’s structure resembles oestradiol, which is the most important form of the female sex hormone oestrogen. As a result, BPA binds to oestrogen receptors inside the body. It appears that the time of greatest sensitivity to BPA is in the womb. Interestingly, 96% of pregnant women in the US test positive for BPA in their urine.  Multiple studies have associated BPA exposure with weight gain and obesity, in both lab animals and humans.

BPA exposure has also been linked to insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, genital malformations and more.

However, don’t be fooled into buying “BPA-Free” products as they simply replay the BPA, with BPS and BPF which have also shown to be toxic, but have not had as many studies done on them. It is best to avoid all plastic if possible.

2) Phthalates

Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics soft and flexible. They are found in various products, including food containers, toys, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains, paint and synthetic fragrances such air freshener, scented candles and perfume. These chemicals can easily leach out of plastics and contaminate foods, the water supply and even the very air we breathe. A Swedish study found that children can absorb airborne phthalates from plastic floor material through the skin and respiratory tract.

Like BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, affecting the hormonal balance in your body.  Studies in humans have shown that phthalate levels in the body are associated with obesity, increased waist circumference, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.  It appears that men are particularly susceptible. Studies show that phthalate exposure in the womb leads to genital malformations, undescended testicles and low testosterone levels.

Many government and health authorities have begun taking action against phthalates, with the state of California passing laws that instruct toy manufacturers to stop using phthalates in their products.

3) Atrazine

Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in Australia used to control weeds in crops such as canola, sorghum and maize (corn). It has been banned in Europe for over a decade because of groundwater contamination. Atrazine is also an endocrine disruptor and several studies show that exposure correlates with birth defects in humans.

In the US, there is an overlap between the areas that use the most atrazine and the prevalence of obesity. It has been shown to damage mitochondria in rats, decreasing the metabolic rate and increasing abdominal obesity.

4) Organotins

Organotins are a class of artificial chemicals used for various industrial purposes. One of them is called tributyltin (TBT). It is used as a fungicide and applied to boats and ships to prevent the growth of marine organisms on the hull. It is also used in wood preservatives and some industrial water systems. Many lakes and coastal waters are contaminated with tributyltin.

Some scientists believe that tributyltin and other organotin compounds can function as endocrine disruptors and contribute to obesity in humans by increasing the number of fat cells. There is also evidence that exposure to tributyltin in the womb may increase the number of fat cells, which may promote fat gain.

5) Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a synthetic compound used for various purposes. It is a constituent of non-stick cookware made with Teflon and also found in microwave popcorn.  PFOA has been found in the blood of more than 98% of Americans. It has been associated with various diseases in humans, including thyroid disorders, low birth weight and chronic kidney disease.

In one study in mice, exposure to PFOAs during development led to increased insulin, leptin and body weight during mid-life.

How to Minimize Your Exposure to Obesogens

There are many endocrine-disrupting chemicals and covering all of them is beyond the scope of this article. It is downright impossible to avoid them completely, because they are literally everywhere.

However, there are a few simple things you can do to dramatically reduce your exposure and minimise your risk of later complications.

  1. Avoid foods and beverages that have been stored in plastic containers.
  2. Use stainless steel or quality aluminium or glass water bottles instead of plastic.
  3. Do not feed your babies from plastic bottles. Use glass bottles instead.
  4. Instead of non-stick cookware, use cast iron or stainless steel.
  5. Use organic, natural cosmetics.

Of course, eating healthy, exercising, getting quality sleep and avoiding stress are still the most important factors when it comes to your health.

If you are a pregnant woman or plan on becoming pregnant, consider avoiding exposure to these chemicals. It might have an effect on the future health of your baby.

 

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