We are going to start this article with a brief definition from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, United States Government website. It is a description of the science of Obesogens:
- “Scientists are exploring the role that chemicals may play in weight gain and obesity. More than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States. Some of these chemicals are toxic to animals and humans, and some interfere with how the body’s hormones function. The ones that impact hormones are called endocrine disrupting chemicals, or endocrine disruptors, and are linked to a variety of diseases. Some endocrine disruptors have been shown to be obesogens, or involved in weight gain, and may be contributing to the obesity problem in this country.”(1)
Simply, there are chemicals that interfere with your endocrine system and this disruption will lead to obesity.
In January 2019, Dr. Jerrold J. Heindel, founder and director of the Program on Endocrine Disruption Strategies, wrote this ominous warning in the medical journal Frontiers in endocrinology (2) about obesogens and their impact on health.
- The Obesogen field developed from two separate scientific research areas, endocrine disruptors and the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are exogenous chemicals or mixtures of chemicals that interfere with the action of hormones.
- Exposure to EDCs during early development has been shown to increase susceptibility to a variety of diseases including:
- breast and prostate cancer,
- early puberty,
- susceptibility to infections,
- heart disease,
- autoimmune disease, and
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/learning disability.
- obesity and fat cell development
Dr. Heinel’s paper focuses on the future direction of understanding the role of chemicals in obesity. He writes that in the last few years there have been two major advances in the field: a focus on transgenerational inheritance by obesogens (the transfer of these toxic chemicals from mother to child during pregnancy). He writes: “(Studies on transgenerational inheritance) are the most disturbing as they show that the effects of obesogen exposure during pregnancy may be apparent in future generations. Perhaps some of the global obesity epidemics noted today are due to exposures to past generations in addition to current exposures.”
Secondly, he suggests a change from a focus on obesogens to a focus on metabolism disruptors. This is because obesogens do much more than cause obesity. “While the term obesogen is still valid, it soon became apparent that some obesogens had activity at other tissues leading to type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and indeed metabolic syndrome.”
In every day life: Phthalates are Obesogens. Plastic exposure can make you fat
The human health effects of phthalates (in simple terms – plastics) are not yet fully known but as we described above, are being studied by several government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.
However, doctors in Italy and Serbia suggest that the connection between endrocine/metabolism disruption and phthalates are confirmed. In the medical journal Endrocrine, (3) they wrote:
“The prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus epidemics presents a great health problem worldwide. Beside the changes in diet and decreased physical activity, there is growing interest in endocrine disrupting chemicals that may have effects on these conditions. Among them, the role of certain phthalates and bisphenol A is confirmed.”
Research into Phthalates exposure and obesity
A research team from Harvard University has added their paper to the wave of literature acknowledging the health risks of phthalates. Here is the summary highlights of their research published in the journal Environmental health (4)
Higher exposure to certain phthalates is associated with metabolic syndrome
- After conducting research on over 2700 individuals looking for urinary phthalate metabolites- the researchers found that participants with Metabolic Syndrome (32 % of the study population) had higher concentrations for all urinary phthalate metabolites.
- Phthalate exposure were associated with an increased odds of Metabolic Syndrome in all men.
- When evaluating by menopausal status, pre-menopausal women with higher concentrations of phthalate had close to a 4-fold increased odds of Metabolic Syndrome compared to pre-menopausal women with the lowest concentrations of phthalate.
- The researchers concluded that their findings suggest further evaluating the role of phthalate metabolite concentrations prospectively to determine whether these chemicals can alter the risk of Metabolic Syndrome among individuals without the condition.
Doctors at Mevlana University, in Turkey have announced that they are the first to show that both blood and urinary phthalates increased in proportion to Body Mass Index and obesity. The results published in the Italian medical journal Minerva endocrinologica (5) show a strong association between obesity and phthalates.
Is your problem with weight loss a problem with plastics?
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2. Heindel JJ. History of the Obesogen Field: Looking Back to Look Forward. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019;10:14. Published 2019 Jan 29. doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00014
3 Stojanoska MM, Milosevic N, Milic N, Abenavoli L. The influence of phthalates and bisphenol A on the obesity development and glucose metabolism disorders. Endocrine. 2017 Mar;55(3):666-681. doi: 10.1007/s12020-016-1158-4. Epub 2016 Nov 7.
4 James-Todd TM, Huang T, Seely EW, Saxena AR. The association between phthalates and metabolic syndrome: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2010. Environmental Health. 2016;15:52. doi:10.1186/s12940-016-0136-x.
5 Oktar S, Sungur S, Okur R, Yilmaz N, Ustun I, Gokce C. The relationship between phthalates and obesity: serum and urine concentrations of phthalates. Minerva Endocrinol. 2017 Mar;42(1):46-52. doi: 10.23736/S0391-1977.16.02295-1. Epub 2015 May 26.