Suprises in the Pantry

Trying to lose weight? The environment might be setting you back!


One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight – to feel and look better, and also to be healthier.  In 2014, experts in weight loss were talking about sugar as the enemy, contributing to the obesity problem and the related health concerns, such as diabetes and heart disease.  While diet is certainly the main cause of weight gain, the environment plays a significant role too.  It’s now the third week of that resolution to lose weight.  Perhaps making some changes in your environment can help you achieve a more successful outcome.

Surprises in the pantry

When I went to medical school in the 60s, we were taught that fat was an inert cupboard space – a place where we stored the extra calories that we didn’t need. But then we discovered leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells. This led to the discovery of other chemical messengers. Now we understand that fat is a complicated hormone gland, capable of communicating with other tissues, such as the brain and immune system. It is more than just a full, bulging pantry.

Every cell has its own detoxification system to rid itself of the unnecessary waste products from burning the energy that fuels us. As scientists studied the contribution of obesity to the development of many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, they discovered that fat inhibits the cells’ capability to detoxify, to protect itself from the by-products of its own metabolism. So waste products accumulate in cells and lead to damage and eventual malfunction.

Getting stressed out

This phenomenon is called oxidative stress. One of its common effects is damage to the hundreds or thousands of little energy producers inside cells, called mitochondria. As these energy generators become less efficient and less capable of managing energy balance, our metabolism slows down, and it becomes harder to lose weight.

Chemical exposures can add to the burden of detoxification, and contribute to the oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage. They can disrupt major weight controlling hormones such as thyroid hormones, estrogens, testosterone, corticosteroids, insulin, growth hormone, and leptin. And when they do, they can affect many metabolic processes resulting in changes in appetite and in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Those environmental pollutants that contribute to weight gain are called obesogens.

Exposures to these pollutants are common, and most of us contain obesogens, most likely stored in the fat cupboard. The more exposed we are to these chemicals, the more we can accumulate fat. It’s a vicious cycle. Pound for pound, obese people contain higher levels of chemicals. 

What’s on the list

The list of these pollutants includes solvents, lubricants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, plastics, plasticizers (bisphenol A {BPA}), phthalates; pesticides (methoxychlor, chlorpyrifos, DDT) fungicides (vinclozolin), and herbicides (atrazine).Triclosan is an obesogen. It is an ever-present chemical found in detergents, soaps, skin cleansers, deodorants, lotions, creams, toothpastes, and dishwashing liquids and is found in 75% of human urine samples. Air pollution is now recognized as a risk factor for the development of obesity too. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the main sources of which are motor vehicle exhaust, residential heating, oil refining, charbroiled foods, and cigarette smoke, are obesogens.

Obesogens help explain why excess caloric consumption and a sedentary lifestyle alone do not account for the current worldwide obesity epidemic. And oxidative stress plays an important role too. 

Many people find that when they start dieting, the pounds seem to melt off, but then it slows down or stops. This may be because as the fat shrinks, the stored toxins are released back into the blood stream. Increasing the toxic load on the body’s detoxification system can lead to more oxidative stress, reducing the function of those energy producing mitochondria.

The antidote for oxidative stress is antioxidants. These are found in fruits and vegetables. A minimum of five helpings of fruit or veggies per day can reduce oxidative stress. But the more helpings, the better to help your cells detoxify. You need to reduce the amount of chemicals your body takes in from other sources as well.

Make better headway on your resolutions!

Start taking in less chemical toxins by choosing organic products when possible, make foods rich in antioxidants the main part of your diet and reduce the number of  obesogens you take in as a result of products that you buy.  Sweating from exercise and sitting in a sauna helps the body to get rid of toxins.

Don’t give up on your New Year resolution! Certainly, you need to continue to diet and maintain an exercise program. Fill your kitchen cupboards with good choices and start emptying your fat cupboard of the chemical toxins being stored there.

And have a healthy new year!

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