Obesogens – Obesity Causing Environmental Chemicals

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By Jamil Abdur-Rahman, M.D.

The Environment Strikes Back!!

What if I told you that the environment, both the one that is inside of your home and the one that is outside of your home might be making you FAT!? Would you believe me? Should you believe me? Well, what if I told you that some of the extra weight that you carry may have less to do with how much food you eat, and more to do with environmental chemicals that you are exposed to on a daily basis? Would that change how you see your world? Would that change how you interact with your world? Friends, I am here to tell you that the environment that exists both inside of and outside of your home probably is making you gain weight. And, I am also here to tell you that some of the extra weight that you carry may have less to do with how much food you eat, and more to do with chemicals that you are exposed to. Since I realize that this may sound strange to many, let me break it down for you guys.

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Obesogens are Nasty, Nasty, Nasty!!

All around us, both inside of our homes and outside of our homes are a class of chemicals commonly referred to as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (aka Endocrine Disruptors or EDC’s). As their name implies, these Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals disrupt the way that our endocrine system behaves. Our endocrine systems are signaling systems that use hormones to send messages or “signals” from one part of our body to another. These signaling hormones are key to controlling many of our body’s most important functions. When the production, activity or breakdown of these signaling hormones is disrupted, important body functions can be compromised. For example, when the production, activity or breakdown of hormones that control metabolism and weight like Insulin and Leptin are disrupted, weight gain and obesity can result. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals that can cause weight gain and obesity are called Obesogens. While the science behind how many obesogens cause obesity is extremely complex and in many ways still emerging, the link between obesogens and obesity is clear. So, how can you avoid these nasty chemicals?

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Where are Obesogens Hiding?

If you want to avoid obesogens, it’s important that you know where you are most likely to encounter them. So, here is a list of some of the most common obesogens and where you are most likely to bump into them.

  • Pesticides, especially DDE and Atrazine are used to treat non-organic fruits and vegetables. So , you may come in contact with these obesogens if you eat non-organic fruit and vegetables or if you drink unfiltered tap water. Frequently, run off from crops that have been treated with pesticides can make its way into municipal water supplies, contaminating the tap water as a result.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to create many plastics and resins. BPA can be found lining food cans, in cash register receipts and in many of the plastics commonly used to bottle food and drinks (especially water).
  • Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) is a chemical used to create non-stick surface coating for pots, pans and microwave popcorn bags. PFOA is also used to create stain and water resistent barriers for carpeting and clothing.
  • Phthalates are chemicals that are commonly mixed with plastics to make them more flexible, transparent and durable. They can commonly be found in PVC pipes, in products stored in plastic containers, in vinyl, in air fresheners and in personal care products like nail polish, hair spray, lotions, shampoos and soaps.
  • Tributyltin (TBT) chemicals are used primarily as preservatives. They are able to ward off pests, bacteria and fungi and are therefore used to preserve products made using wood, textiles and carpets.
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Esthers (PDBEs) are chemicals commonly used as flame retardants. They are commonly found in electronic devices, in cars and airplanes and in fire resistent clothes and furniture.

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How to Avoid Obesogens

So you can see, obesogens are almost EVERYWHERE. There are however some fairly simple ways that you can avoid coming in contact with many of them.

  1. Eat organic fruits and vegetables.
  2. Limit your use of plastics.
  3. Never place plastic dishes in the microwave.
  4. Do not take your receipts when you go shopping.
  5. Use fragrance free, preservative free personal care products.
  6. Do not purchase fire resistent clothes, furniture or fabrics.
  7. Do not eat canned foods.
  8. Do not drink unfiltered tap water.
  9. Do not eat microwave popcorn.
  10. Do not cook with non-stick cookware.
  11. Do not treat furniture or carpeting with stain or water resistent chemicals.
  12. Always remove your shoes when entering your home.