Obesogens: chemicals which can increase your chances of obesity. If you’re wondering why you can’t shift that weight, here is another piece of the puzzle. It’s not just what you put in your mouth or how much you move your body, it also could be the chemicals in your environment, or even the ones your great-grandmother was exposed to.
Obesogens were first discovered when scientists were looking closely at the effects of common environmental chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and plastics on reproductive issues for future generations. It became apparent that pregnant rats exposed to high levels of these chemicals had offspring with reproductive issues, but then also had great-grandchildren with a higher rate of obesity.
Other experiments showed rats exposed to high levels of plasticides (such as pthalates and BPA) were more obese, as were their offspring. Human studies confirm the link with BPA exposure and obesity. Specific research around tributyltin (TBT), a chemical used in marine paint, showed that it can increase weight gain by encouraging the production of more fat cells. Some obesogens have been shown to impact on sex hormones and thyroid function, which in turn have implications for weight gain. Heavy metals such as arsenic also increase obesity.
While obesogens aren’t the only cause of weight gain in our population, they are a significant contributing factor. What you eat and how much exercise you do will of course still be the main determinants of weight. Other metabolic factors such as thyroid function will always need to be considered. But this information is crucial in understanding the increase in obesity in our population overall. It may also be important for you if you can’t put your finger on your own weight issues.
What obesogens can do in your body:
- Increase the number of fat cells and the way you accumulate and store fat
- Increase chances of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes
- Disrupt your hormonal balance, reduce fertility, affect thyroid function
- Alter the way you process and respond to sugars/glucose and lipids/fats
Potential Obesogenic Chemicals:
Tributyltin (TBT): Fungicide and disinfectant; added to marine paints to discourage growth of barnacles etc; also found in some plastics
Organobromines:Flame retardants and other uses
Organochlorines (e.g., DDT, PCBs, tolyfluanid): Pesticides; electronics manufacture Organophosphates: Insecticides
Bisphenol A (BPA): Plastics production
Phthalates (e.g., diethylhexylphthalate): Plastics production
Heavy metals (e.g., cadmium, arsenic, lead): Mining, fertiliser, plastics production, wood preservatives. Read more here on heavy metals.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): Nonstick coatings and other uses
How to avoid obesogens:
- Most obesogens are endocrine disruptors or xenooestrogens. Read more here for a detailed look at how to avoid these in your home, work, and daily life. If I can put it really simply, the keys are to:
- Avoid plastics (especially around food and drink) and reduce plastic consumption. ALL plastic eventually breaks down and gets into the food chain. OUR food chain.
- Avoid the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and call on local councils and government agencies to restrict use of these. Buy organic where possible to encourage this.
- Avoid non-stick cookware.
- Be wary of all chemicals and keep it simple when it comes to cleaning your home and body.
- Take care around treated wood and sawdust.
Key implications for optimising health:
- Supporting detoxification in the body is key for weight loss.
- Enhancing detoxification and avoiding obesogenic exposure is of vital importance for enhancing fertility in both men and women.
- A ‘detox’ is not simply stopping alcohol and sugar and drinking more water for a few weeks! Supporting detoxification in all organs, especially the liver, requires specific nutrients and can be aided with specific botanical medicines too. If you know what you’ve been exposed to, its easier to do a more targeted detox. Talk to your practitioner or read more here about detoxification.
The more we know about the chemical soup we’re living in the more chance we have of making changes. This is important now, but also, crucially, for future generations. What we do now affects not only the environment our children and grandchildren will inherit, but also the way their bodies are designed to respond to this. Please don’t let this get you down, but take it as food for thought. It’s time to clean up, and this will help us lean up too!