Believe it or not, research is showing that there is a new factor to the obesity epidemic plaguing the United States and progressively spreading to the rest of the world. Of course, there is no debate about the following concept–the number of calories you consume versus the number of calories you burn off is still one of the main contributors to weight gain.
If you consume more calories than you burn off, you will gain weight but that’s not the full story. Researchers are finding environmental chemicals called obesogens also play a significant role in the cause of obesity.
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Obesogens, also known as endocrine disruptors, mimic hormones and alter the body’s endocrine system and metabolism. These chemicals promote fat cell growth and prevent the body from using these fat cells as energy. Being exposed to these obesogen chemicals at any age, but especially when young, increases the chances of weight gain even while following a healthy diet and exercise routine.
How to avoid endocrine disruptors
Today, the chance of completely avoiding exposure to all obesogen chemicals is most likely zero. These chemicals are hiding in almost everything from food and drinks to cosmetics and common household goods. Let’s take a look where you might find them.
Obesogen chemicals show up in our food, plastic, and non-stick type food packaging and in pesticide residue used on food crops. Processed foods and meats produced from animals fed with artificial hormones and antibiotics increase obesity. Artificial sweeteners and corn syrup are other examples of obesogenic ingredients found in soft drinks and in popular snacks widely consumed by children and teenagers. The lining used in cans such as canned tuna, tomato products, and soups contains obesogenic chemicals and plastics such as BPA, Bisphenol A.
Soy has come under scrutiny as a potential obesogen. Soy contains high numbers of phytoestrogens—plant sources of the estrogen hormone. The research on soy is confusing, though. Certain forms of soy phytoestrogens may be obesogenic, whereas other forms of phytoestrogens might actually promote weight loss. Use soy products with caution until more research clarifies this confusion. Since soy products are also fed to livestock, choose grass-fed beef if you eat it. And lastly, soy is used to make up to a third of all baby formulas. If your baby doesn’t tolerate cow’s milk formula, ask your pediatrician if there are other alternative formulas you could use besides soy-based.
Dirty dozen endocrine disruptors
Fruits and vegetables on the ‘dirty dozen’ list have been found to have high levels of pesticides. Pesticide chemicals are considered to be obesogens. Most of the ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables don’t contain a thick outer skin or shell. Lacking this protective layer allows the pesticide chemicals to be easily absorbed into the produce. It’s best to buy these ‘dirty dozen’ food items in the organic section to lower your risk of pesticide exposure.
Cosmetics, non-stick cookware, and stain resistant (scotch-guarded) furniture are a few common household everyday items that contain obesogenic chemicals. Additionally, air fresheners, wall paint, plastic toys, and vinyl contain chemicals known as phthalates that are considered carcinogenic and obesogenic.
As you can see, the list of endocrine hijacking chemicals is long and growing. It seems scientists are constantly adding new weight-promoting chemicals to the list. Along with healthy lifestyle choices, reducing your exposure to obesogens will help protect you from weight gain and the adverse health risks associated with obesity. It all starts with an awareness of obesogens and where they are found to guide you in making better choices to reduce your exposure.
Pesticides and Obesogens
Since over 75 percent of US cropland is treated with pesticide, food supply contamination with these chemicals is a big concern in the US. Additionally, older pesticides that have been banned for decades are still having an effect on human health.
Even though DDT was banned in the US in 1972, research is discovering its long-term effects on multiple future generations, even when there’s been no direct exposure to DDT. This is due to the epigenetic effect of this pesticide to turn on and off different human genes. That means that the genetic effect is passed on to future generations from your great grandparents’ exposure to DDT.
Obesogenic pesticides cause weight gain through multiple mechanisms. The primary route is through mimicking estrogen hormone. Pesticides such as atrazine and DDE (the metabolite of DDT) promote insulin resistance, which causes weight gain. Fatigue, increase in appetite and cravings are all symptoms of insulin resistance. Some pesticides alter the gastrointestinal tract’s bacterial flora, resulting in disruption of the microbiome and alteration of nutrient absorption leading to weight gain.
In addition to weight gain, exposure to pesticides can increase your chances of developing cancer especially Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and in utero fetal malformations.
How to reduce exposure to harmful pesticides:
Alternatives to Pesticides
You can make your own organic pesticide sprays from non-toxic organic ingredients such as garlic, cayenne pepper, spearmint, and orange citrus and neem oil to combat pests in your home garden. Simply dilute these ingredients with water and spray on the plants.
Buy locally grown organic fruits and vegetables. Make sure to wash the fruits and vegetables well before consuming. When shopping for organic produce, focus on the “dirty dozen.” This is an annual list of fruit and vegetable categories shown to have higher levels of pesticide residues.
Grow Your Own Produce
The best way to know for sure that your foods were not sprayed with pesticides is to grow your own fruits and vegetables in your backyard. Use organic methods and natural pesticide alternatives to ensure crop yield. Just because you grow your own produce doesn’t mean there will be zero exposure to obesogens though, so make sure to wash your own produce as well. Your garden can be contaminated by obesogenic pesticides carried on the wind from your neighbors’ yards or gardens.
Organic Personal Care
Switch to organic body care items such as organic natural deodorant, soaps and lotions and use only organic essential oils. Avoid any product with triclosan added as an anti-bacterial ingredient. This chemical was banned from soaps and body washes by the FDA but has not yet been entirely banned by the US EPA as of 2018.
Drink Purified Water
Pesticides can show up in our water supply from run-off following application to crops and yards. Invest your money in a good home water purifier system or filter. Activated carbon and reverse osmosis systems are the most effective at removing pesticides and other industrial chemicals and particles. Use a system with both to greatly improve the effectiveness of removing harmful toxins.
In order to avoid pesticide exposure, it’s important to be aware of the ways you might be exposed. Taking steps to avoid and reduce pesticide exposure in your food, water, and personal care products is paramount in a healthy lifestyle program.
Plastics and Obesogens
Obesogens are environmental man-made and synthetic chemicals that are linked to obesity. They cause obesity by copying and disrupting hormones and promote insulin resistance. Studies have shown a link to increased amount and size of fat cells in rats exposed to obesogenic chemicals. Obesogens are hiding in food, cosmetics, and other household items. They are highly prevalent in plastics.
The most common obesogenic chemicals found in plastics:
Bisphenol-A is an industrial chemical mainly used in plastics and resins. It’s found in food containers, water bottles, many polycarbonate plastic items, and the lining of canned food products. It was commonly used to make plastic baby bottles and children’s sipping cups until its use was banned in the US in 2012.
Due to the health risks associated with BPA, many companies are developing BPA-free alternatives. However, research shows that other plastic materials are potentially just as dangerous as BPA. Your best option is to switch to glass alternatives whenever possible.
Phthalates, also known as plasticizers, are chemicals used to make plastics more soft and flexible. They’re also used to dissolve certain materials in other products—think personal care products like perfumes, soaps, shampoo and nail polish. Phthalates are also found in food containers, plastic packaging, toys, cosmetics and vinyl flooring materials.
Phthalates can easily enter the body through food or drink that comes in contact with phthalate-containing plastic packaging. Phthalates may also enter through skin contact with plastic materials and through breathing phthalate particles suspended in contaminated air or dust.
Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals. Hormone receptors called PPARs are responsible for fat metabolism. Research shows these hormone receptors are disrupted by phthalates. Glucose and fatty acid metabolism are also altered by phthalates. Exposure to phthalates in utero is believed to cause genital malformations and lower testosterone levels in males.
How to reduce plastic consumption:
Switch to glass
Mason jars or glass storage containers are a safer and much more effective way of saving and storing food. Remember to bring one with you when going to restaurants.
Reusable shopping bags
Start buying reusable bags at grocery stores instead of using the plastic bags provided. These bags are full of obesogenic chemicals and can take over a thousand years to degrade in landfills.
Invest in a water filter
Stop buying bottled water and buy a filter for your faucet. A filter is more cost effective and reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Shop in bulk
Obesogenic chemicals affect our food the most because of the plastics used in food packaging. Shopping in bulk and providing your own reusable bags and glass containers is a great way to avoid this. Your health and wallet will thank you.
Avoid chewing gum
Gum is made from synthetic rubbers, polyvinyl acetate (gum base) and artificial sweeteners like aspartame. In other words, you are chewing on plastic.
Fragrance in personal care products and artificial air fresheners, and laundry products contain phthalates. It’s best to avoid fragrance to minimize your exposure to these obesogens.
A proper diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats and a proper exercise routine paired with reducing plastic consumption is a great way to reduce your exposure to obesogens. Obesogens wreak havoc on your health by causing weight gain, obesity and other major health problems,