Obesogens and Gaining Weight

By Val Silver

If you are struggling to stop gaining weight, obesogens may be partly to blame. 

Biologist Bruce Blumberg of UC Irvine coined this term to describe chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors. Although most endocrine disruptors are chemical, some are found in natural substances. Even the American Medical Association acknowledges the link between gaining weight and these chemicals.

A broader definition describes obesogens as any substance that inappropriately affects the balance of fats and how fats are stored in your body.

They affect your metabolism and your energy and promote additional fat gain by increasing your appetite for more food. 

Xenoestrogens are estrogen mimicking chemical obesogens that have been making headlines because of their health effects. They cause cancer and may be connected to thyroid disease and weight gain.  

One reason you add pounds is to provide a safe place to store toxins. In its wisdom, your body does this by increasing fat production and holding onto its fat. Otherwise, toxins can cause illness or even death. 

Research shows that estrogen disruptors can alter your genes. Babies in the womb are vulnerable to developing too many fat cells when their mothers are exposed to them. Umbilical cords of newborns reveal hundreds of chemicals.

Obesogens are found in thousands of products. One example is Bispenol A (BPA) found in #3 and #7 plastics. BPA disrupts the endocrine system and hormone signalling. Some savvy manufacturers now replaced BPA with the equally toxic BPS in flexible plastic products.

These chemicals are also in medications, cooking utensils, food storage containers, household cleaning supplies and personal care products including shampoos and cosmetics. They are in our water supply thanks to herbicide and pesticide runoff as well as excreted medications like birth control pills.

Obesogens are added to processed foods and are found in fattening foods fed to animals being raised for food.  What they eat, you eat.

That new car smell? It comes from a variety of chemicals including phthalates. This plastic softener is found in many products including shrink wrap, vinyl shower curtains, floors, vinyl dashboards and car seats. It is in fragrance products, air fresheners and dryer sheets. Because phthalates may lower testosterone and metabolism you can lose muscle and gain fat.

How to Avoid Obesogens

In our modern world it is impossible to totally avoid obesogens. The trick to limiting your exposure to these toxins is to choose natural products as much as possible.

Jack LaLane was known to say, If God didn't make it, don't eat it. Apply this truism as well to what you drink, breathe, and put on your body.

obesogens in water

Choose safe food and drink ware. 

Filter your water with a high-quality activated-carbon water filter before drinking to remove chemicals.

Use a BPA-free reusable water bottle. Only drink from a No. 2 or 4 plastic cup. Better yet, use glass or stainless steel instead.

Be aware that plastic contains other chemicals besides BPA.

Cook and store foods safely.

  • Never microwave foods on styrofoam or soft plastic. Especially avoid eating on plastic or covering your food with plastic if you are having hot or acidic food or drink. The heat or acid causes chemicals to leach into your food.
  • Use ceramic, glass or stainless steel cookware. Choose green or eco-friendly non-stick cookware. If your teflon is scratched or has ever been heated so high that it smoked, throw it out.
  • Store food in glass containers. If you have to use plastic, choose hard plastic and look for the BPA free label. Note that if the plastic is soft, it still probably contains a xenoestrogen.
  • Avoid microwavable bagged popcorn and canned tomato products. Lined cans contain BPA which is leached by the acid in the tomatoes. Popcorn bags are commonly lined with phthalates.
Purchase naturally raised foods.
  • Choose grass-fed or pastured meat and poultry over conventionally raised animals that were fed anabolic steroids, hormones, and antibiotics. Purchase growth hormone free milk.
  • Purchase locally grown or organic fruits and vegetables, especially if you can eat the skin and they are on the 'dirty dozen' list. Apples, peaches, imported grapes, celery, potatoes, and spinach are known for being heavily doused in chemicals.
  • Even healthy foods can become potentially unhealthy fattening foods when laced with chemicals. Forego the fruit chunks in soft plastic cups. Wash your fruit and eat it whole. Do not buy acidic foods like tomato sauce and vinegar in plastic. They are especially good at leaching chemicals from the plastic. Choose glass containers instead.
Avoid or limit problematic foods.
  • High fructose corn syrup, soy, and artificial sweeteners make the fattening foods list because even though they do not contain fat, they can make you fat.
  • Fructose is a common sweetener found naturally in some foods, especially fruit. Too much can make your liver insulin resistant and increase hunger. Insulin resistance often shows as stubborn belly fat. Dr. Mercola recommends limiting fructose to 25 gms day total (15 if you are trying to lose weight) to improve insulin resistance and the quality of your gut flora.
  • Soy is not a xenoestrogen, but this bean does contain an estrogenic compound, genistein. Research suggests that it makes you gain weight and is often blamed for feminizing and sterilizing males of certain species. Unfermented soy also interferes with the absorption of some nutrients. 
  • Limit artificial sweeteners. Some may come from food but they are chemically altered. Aspartame is known to cause a wide variety of symptoms and disease, some quite serious. Sucrolose and others may be safer, but are far from healthy. Artificial sweeteners actually make you gain weight because they spike insulin  in response to the sweet taste, causing you to eat more. Choose small amounts of stevia or safer sugar alcohols instead.

Use non-toxic cleaning and personal care products.

  • Avoid fragranced products unless the scent comes from natural essential oils. Because of labeling laws, manufacturers do not have to list all the chemical ingredients in fragrances. Most fragrances are made up of at least seven chemicals. Assume nothing when it comes to cleaning and personal care products.
  • Check the safety of your cosmetics, shampoos, oral care products, and lotions at EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Many contain xenoestrogens and other potentially harmful chemicals.

It is almost impossible to avoid exposure to obesogens. These chemicals are just about everywhere. However, you can greatly reduce your intake by following the above tips. Limiting obesogens is important for losing weight and protecting your health. 

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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