Monday, January 16, 2012

The Link Between Chemicals and Obesity

Since 2008, about one-third of U.S. adults and almost one-fifth of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 have been classified as obese—both staggering and shocking statistics.  But what if working out and watching what you eat isn’t paying off?  Is there anything else causing obesity out there besides overeating and genetics?  As it turns out, there may be more.  Harmful chemicals, called obesogens, are sneaking into our homes and diets…and ultimately changing the way our body controls weight.
            Obesogens are either natural or man-made chemicals that can alter the way one’s body controls weight, especially during fetal and early development.  Obesogens do this by causing an increase in the number of fat cells, a decrease in calories burned, a resistance to insulin in the liver, and a release of less leptin (responsible for telling your body you are full) from fat cells.  Luckily, the federal government has taken obesogens head on, funding $20 million for further studies on this topic.  But as we wait for updates and new findings, there’s no hurt in starting to avoid obesogens today—starting right at home!   Here is a list of obesogens to help you and your family on the path towards a healthier body and environment!
1.       BPA:  BPA (Bisphenol-A) is commonly found in hard plastics, cans, and, interestingly enough, cashier receipts.  A few simple ways to help reduce your exposure to BPA include choosing glass or stainless steel bottles over plastic, avoiding canned foods, and letting the cashier know you won’t be needing a receipt (which also helps reduce waste!).
2.       Pesticides: The chemicals found in pesticides used for farming are often linked to obesity and diabetes.  To reduce your intake of pesticides, start choosing organic foods!  Studies have shown that after just 5 days of eating organic, you can cleanse your body of almost all pesticide residues.
3.       Atrazine: Faucet water has been found carrying pesticides from the soil surrounding water sources.  The main obesogen pesticide found in tap water, atrazine, slows thyroid hormone metabolism.  Install a granular activated carbon filter on your faucet to filter out that unnecessary weight gain.
4.       High fructose corn syrup: High fructose corn syrup can cause your liver to resist insulin and lessens the amount of leptin released from your fat cells to alert you that you’re full.  Organic and natural sweeteners are better ingredients to be found on food labels.
5.       Polybrominated biphenyls (PCBs):  PCBs work through estrogen receptor pathways and affect the liver—not to mention PCBs have been shown to cause cancer.  Their release into the environment has caused them to bioaccumulate in fish and other animals, so eating lower on the food chain a bit more in your diet can protect you from harmful levels of exposure. Why not try the growing trend of Meatless Monday? This would be a great start!
6.       Soy: Despite its high levels of protein and other healthy attributes, soy promotes fat-cell growth because of its plant-based estrogenic properties.  High doses of this legume and its form of drink cause weight gain.  Babies and children are mostly affected, so it’s best to keep soy away from young children and to offer breast milk to babies over other supplemental drinks.
7.       Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA): If you use non-stick pans coated with PTFE, PFOA may be leaching into your foods.  Found even in microwaveable popcorn bags, PFOA can have a negative impact on your thyroid gland.  Stainless steel and/or cast iron pans are great alternatives to PTFE-coated pans.
8.       Phthalates: Phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals, are common in personal-care products, especially synthetically fragranced products.  Besides being linked to obesity, high levels of phthalates can affect the growth of children.  Take a quick look at the ingredients in your favorite personal care products for “fragrance” or “parfum” and toss them if you find those listed.  Air fresheners and scented candles are culprits too, so natural beeswax candles are a safer alternative.
9.       Organotins:  Harmful organotins can be found in vinyl (some flooring, purses, and shower curtains) and PVC plastics (pipes).  According to a recent study, mice that were exposed to organotin tributyltin bore mice that were predisposed to weight problems.  That said, try to avoid this obesogen by paying attention to what is in your household and cleaning your home on a regular basis, since PVC can hang around household dust.
10.   Nicotene: Babies born to mothers who smoke throughout pregnancy face an increased risk of being obese during their developmental years.  Second-hand smoke is just as important to avoid, and from third-hand-smoke, the toxins that linger in a cigarette after it has been put out still pose health risks, especially to babies and young children.  “There are no safe levels of this stuff,” says Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, at the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
          I hope this list helps because any step you can take to keep your body obesogen-free is progress towards a healthier and more successful diet.
~ Ivana
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