Traditional weight loss advice has taught us if we eat fewer calories and exercise more, we’ll achieve our ultimate body weight goals. Now we have come to a greater understanding of the multiple factors that influence obesity, which of course includes our diet, but also our hormones, bio-individuality, epigenetics and increasingly, the environment. Your cookware, car and water bottle might be making you fat due to a new class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals called obesogens.
What Are Obesogens?
Obesogens are chemicals that stimulate fat cell production and storage. Simply put, they make us fat.
Obesogens are a class or subset of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Our endocrine system contains a variety of chemicals that communicate information about how our tissues should respond. Hormones are key players in this communication network and their messages have profound impacts on our physiology. They need to be in balance and when they aren’t, symptoms and disease can ensue.
EDCs can influence us in a variety of ways and can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, female cancers like breast, ovarian, uterine and cervical, prostate cancer, skin diseases, thyroid conditions and more. They can also impact growing fetuses and child development. Plus, evidence indicates that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can alter our epigenetics, or the way our genes are expressed. With respect to obesity, exposure to EDCs – especially early in life – can lead to obesity later on and obesity genes can be passed along to future generations.
Where Can We Find Obesogens?
Unfortunately, the sources of obesogens in our environment are numerous. They include:
This family of chemicals is often found in plastics.
Where you find them: Tupperware and other plastic food storage, canned and packaged foods, personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, hair gels, nail polish, etc.), home cleaning products, medical equipment, flooring.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
This is a synthetic chemical also used in plastics.
Where you find it: Water bottles, plastic food storage containers, canned goods, plastic toys, receipts, soda cans, pop bottles.
Perfluorodecanoic Acid (PFOA)
This is a synthetic surfactant that makes surfaces non-stick. It doesn’t ever degrade.
Where you find it: Non-stick cookware (most commonly known as Teflon), food packaging. Since it doesn’t break down, it is also found in drinking water and in the air.
This is a group of chlorinated compounds found mainly in pesticides.
Where you find them: Pesticides, insecticides. They bio-accumulate in the environment, so we will also find them in the water, air and in animals.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)
This group of compounds are used as flame retardants.
Where you’ll find them: Furniture, building materials, foam, vehicles, cables, casings and tubing, textiles, upholstery, car seats, house dust, mattresses, carpets. PDBEs are also found in the environment (air, soil, water, animals) and amounts have been detected in human breast milk.
This is a herbicide.
Where you’ll find it: Crops, residential lawns, golf courses, groundwater.
This family of compounds is used as detergents and emulsifiers.
Where you’ll find them: Dish detergent, laundry detergent, dish soap, latex paints, lawn care products.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This is an extremely processed sugar made from corn.
Where you’ll find it: Candy, cakes, cookies, muffins, chocolate, cereal, granola and granola bars, soda, juice, yogurt, bread, condiments (ketchup, jam, salad dressing, etc.).
Where you’ll find it: The air, obviously. There are some places in the world that have more air pollution than others, and people who live closer to big cities and main roads will receive more exposure than those who live in the country or remote areas.
Obesogens are not only ubiquitous in the environment, but they also accumulate in fat tissue and the liver, creating more toxic load and inflammation that can potentially lead to obesity. Remember that obesogens accumulate in the food chain too, including fish and other animals, so we are consuming those chemicals when we eat these foods. In addition, obesogens can influence our appetite control, satiety and metabolic set points, meaning they don’t just make us gain weight – they change us on a deeper physiological level.
How Can I Reduce Obesogen Exposure?
With contamination in the water, air and soil, it may seem impossible to escape obesogens. This isn’t true. While we can’t avoid them entirely, there are ways that we can reduce our exposure to obesogens in our lives.
Get Rid of Plastics
Begin to comb through your home and eliminate plastic sources wherever possible. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Instead of using plastic products to store or serve your food, try glass or stainless steel. Learn more about how to store food without plastic.
- Take re-usable shopping bags and produce bags with you when buying groceries or other items.
- Stop buying bottled water. Use stainless steel or glass instead.
- Use glass straws.
- Take your lunch in a re-usable container.
- Cook from scratch as much as possible, which eliminates plastic packaging.
- Consider other options to plastic toys (like wood) and reduce the amount of toys you buy.
- If using plastic, aim for types that are BPA-free and BPS-free.
Buy Organic When Possible
Choosing organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans and animal products will eliminate exposure to many of the pesticides that can influence obesity. Get to know your local farmers (and ask them questions about how they grow their food). If buying all organic isn’t an option, the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce by the Environmental Working Group is a great resource. It indicates which produce has the most pesticides, and which contain the least.
Eat Whole Foods, Cooked From Scratch
We can control our exposure to EDCs by cooking food at home in our very own kitchens. We choose what we add to our foods, and can eliminate some of the other harsh ingredients like white sugar, vegetable oils and white salt that can lead to weight gain. Through home cooking, we can also use ingredients that will help us detoxify obesogens.
We can help eliminate some obesogens through detoxification. Some of the ways you can detoxify are:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Ensure you are having regular bowel movements, as the colon is a major elimination channel for waste. Feeling constipated? These seven tips can help.
- Try dry skin brushing.
- Use an infrared sauna.
- Incorporate detoxifying foods into your diet.
- Breathe deeply (meditation or yoga is a great way to do this).
Take Steps to Reduce Air Pollution Exposure
We can take action to protect ourselves against air pollution. Try to avoid high-pollution areas at peak times (ie rush hour traffic), be mindful of the outdoors when there are smog or air advisories, and clean your indoor air with air filters, charcoal bags or air-purifying plants.
Also, aim to reduce your own contributions to air pollution – don’t idle your car, walk or take transit when possible and conserve energy at home.
Create a Toxin-Free Home Environment
Aside from foods and plastics, there are many elements in our homes that can be improved to reduce obesogen exposure. Some of the ways you can reduce toxins in your home are:
- Use non-toxic cleaning products (or make your own).
- Install a shower filter.
- Buy a water filter.
- Purchase or make non-toxic personal care products.
- Use non-toxic cookware, such as cast iron, glass or stainless steel.
- Buy non-toxic bedding and mattresses.
In the last 40 years, obesity worldwide has tripled. With nearly 2 billion overweight adults and over 340 million overweight children, now more than ever we need to reduce and eliminate obesogens wherever possible. When armed with these obesogen-reducing tips, you can begin to make better choices for your health and your family’s health.