Posted By Dr. Mercola | August 24 2011
Recent research has implicated environmental contaminants in the pathogenesis of obesity. A new study sought to explore the relationship between persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and fat mass.
The results showed that blood plasma concentrations of octachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (OCDD), PCBs, and the pesticides HCB, TNK, and DDE were all positively related to fat mass. Subjects in top 20 percent of PCB 105 showed a mean fat mass that was over 10 pounds higher than those in the lowest 20 percent.
You're probably aware of the role diet and exercise play in maintaining a healthy weight, however, while these are the primary culprits in obesity for the majority of people, they are not the only ones.Your body is actually the product of your environment, and this includes not only your personal lifestyle choices, like what you eat for breakfast and how active you are, but also what chemicals you are exposed to in your food, water, personal care products, and so on. It is becoming quite clear that these chemicals interact with your body on multiple levels, leading to complex changes in your endocrine system, organs, tissues and even your fat cells.
What are Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) include chemicals like dioxins, DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pentachlorophenol (PCP). They persist in the environment and resist breaking down, accumulating in the food chain and posing serious risks to human health and the environment. For instance, even though PCBs have been banned in the United States for decades, they are still present in your environment.According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):"Many POPs were widely used during the boom in industrial production after World War II, when thousands of synthetic chemicals were introduced into commercial use. Many of these chemicals proved beneficial in pest and disease control, crop production, and industry. These same chemicals, however, have had unforeseen effects on human health and the environment."Among them, POPs have caused birth defects and other abnormalities among wildlife, along with damage to virtually every human bodily system. As the EPA notes:"Studies have linked POPs exposures to declines, diseases, or abnormalities in a number of wildlife species, including certain kinds of fish, birds, and mammals. Wildlife also can act as sentinels for human health: abnormalities or declines detected in wildlife populations can sound an early warning bell for people. Behavioral abnormalities and birth defects in fish, birds, and mammals in and around the Great Lakes, for example, led scientists to investigate POPs exposures in human populations …In people, reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine, and immunologic adverse health effects have been linked to POPs. People are mainly exposed to POPs through contaminated foods. Less common exposure routes include drinking contaminated water and direct contact with the chemicals."
New Research Shows POPs Play a Complex Role in Obesity
A new study of 70-year-olds set out to determine whether POPs were related to a person's fat mass and, as you might suspect, a connection was indeed found. After measuring fat mass and blood levels of 21 POPs, researchers found that participants with the highest levels of PCB 105 had a fat mass that was over 10.5 pounds higher than those with the lowest levels -- and this was afteradjusting for other factors like physical activity, gender, height and so on.This means that it's possible your exposure to environmental chemicals could be causing biochemical, hormonal or other changes in your body that are making you gain weight. Researchers noted that the results "implicate a complex role of POPs in obesity," meaning these chemicals probably impact your weight in a number of ways.One could be their impact on how your body synthesizes the stress hormone cortisol. POPs are known to impact cortisol levels, even in utero, and this hormone promotes the storage of fat in your belly (not to mention could influence your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes).Further, a review of 450 studies found that exposure to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals is associated with an increase in body size in humans. Of particular concern was the chemical dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), which is a metabolite of DDT, and the form of DDT most often detected in foods and people.As the study's abstract noted:"Nearly all the studies investigating dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) found that exposure was associated with an increase in body size …"Also studies on prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals showed that exposure in utero could cause permanent changes that could predispose you to weight gain later in life.
Can You Reduce Your Exposure to Environmental Chemicals?
Yes, you can, but there are about 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries. Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it's far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible:By optimizing your diet you will amplify the ability of your beneficial gut bacteria to grow and colonize in your intestine. This is one of the most important detoxification mechanisms you have, as the bacteria will greatly facilitate your body's ability to detoxify these poisons. Just remember, though, every time you eat sugar you damage your good bacteria, reduce their growth and actually increase their pathogenic counterparts, the bacteria, yeast and fungi that actually cause disease.Other helpful strategies include:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers. Since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables, I strongly recommend you buy only organically raised animal foods.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives of all kinds, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG, as well as the chemicals found in food packaging.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances. if you like the idea of using air fresheners, scented candles, or dryer sheets because you like the scent, then therapeutic essential oils are an excellent, and safe, alternative for all of these uses.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint, carpeting and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.