Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Toxins and Obesity

Some of us have long felt that toxins in our environment, our food as well as chemicals in cleaning products and chemicals used to control pests, could contribute to the obesity epidemic. Many of these chemicals were not available in previous times when very few people were obese.

A recent paper reports a study that so-called obesogens do indeed disrupt normal metabolic processes and cause lipid profiles in the liver to be abnormal. These changes increased susceptibility to weight gain, especially when they occurred early in life.

This is not the first time chemicals have been related to obesity and diabetes. For example, here is a study linking endocrine-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol A, found in tin can linings and cash register receipts; phalates, found in plastics and cosmetics; flame retardants; and pesticides with insulin resistance as well as other health problems including cancer. The effect seems to be greater early in life.

Interestingly, the authors of the recent paper said that rosiglitazone, a drug that used to be used to control diabetes, is among the obesogens,  and it was known to cause weight gain. I took it for a short time as part of a clinical study, and the doctor in charge warned me about weight gain, although she said it was mostly water weight and would go away when I stopped taking it, and the weight did reverse when the study was over.

The authors of the current study tried to find out how the obesogens work, and said they caused an increase in various fats in the liver when the liver cells were exposed to concentrations of obesogens often seen in today's environment.

One thing I found interesting in the current paper is that the authors said that today there are approximately 350,000 chemicals commercially available, compared with 100,000 in 2000, a huge increase in just 20 years. And with so many chemicals available, many of them are undoubtedly getting into our environment, including our food. Even monarch butterflies are threatened by toxins in their only food, milkweed.

So even if we try very hard to eat healthy food and we still gain weight, or can't lose weight, it might be more than genetics and food choices. We may be getting too many obesogens.

So what can we do? In today's world, it's impossible to avoid them completely, but we can try to minimize our exposure. If we can afford to, we can eat mostly organic foods, although they probably also contain some obesogens. We can avoid processed foods, which often contain additives. And we can mostly cook our own food at home, because who knows what restaurant food contains.

I realize that's difficult for many people, when trends are to eat more and more foods in restaurants or get them from takeout.

But we can try.