5 chemicals that could be making you fat

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5 Chemicals that could be making you fat (DO NOT USE TAKEPART CONTENT ONLY)
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5 chemicals that could be making you fat

Flame Retardants in Electronics

(Daniel Grizelj via Getty Images)

Two common flame retardants used in tablets, smartphones, and circuit boards are among the most recent to come under fire as potential obesogens. In a new study out of the University of Houston, zebrafish exposed to tetrabromobisphenol A and tetrachlorobisphenol A grew larger and fatter than their fellow fish, even though all were eating and swimming alike.

Researcher Maria Bondesson and her team fed two groups of sibling fish the same high-cholesterol diet, then tested their cells and found unusually high lipid levels in the tissues of the chemically treated fish. What’s particularly concerning, Bondesson said, is that TBBPA and TCBPA have been detected in breast milk in babies and small children, likely because they spend more time than adults on or near the floor. Given that her research, presented to the Institute of Medicine in early March, used low levels of the chemicals, there’s good reason to worry about their effects on developing children. Oh, and the chemicals are extremely prevalent: Manufacturers produce about 150,000 tons of TBBPA and 10,000 tons of TCBPA every year.

A Common Fungicide in Food

(Getty Images)

A chemical widely sprayed on crops in the United States to prevent fungal diseases, triflumizole appears to alter genes to predispose cells to turn into fat cells. The process begins prior to birth, according to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives showing that pregnant mice exposed to TFZ gave birth to babies with larger fat deposits. When researchers collected stem cells from the baby mice, they found that they had been reprogrammed so that they were more likely to become fat cells than other types of cells such as bone. Bruce Blumberg and Felix Grün, the researchers credited with coining the term "obesogen," developed the theory that chemicals such as TFZ change the signaling pathways that control how fat cells and fat tissue are formed. 

BPA in Plastics

(Danilin via Getty Images)

Good old bisphenol A, already known as an endocrine disruptor that contributes to a host of health ills, can be considered one of the original obesogens as well. As researchers came to recognize BPA’s potential to disrupt the endocrine system and alter the action of hormones that affect metabolism, they recognized that it might raise the risk of obesity too. In the last few years, a number of studies have looked for, and found, direct links between obesity in children and exposure to BPA. One study conducted at Kaiser Permanente found that teenage girls with high levels of BPA in their urine doubled their risk of being overweight, while another, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that boys with higher BPA levels were more likely to be obese.

While BPA has been removed from some plastic water bottles and other containers, it’s still used to line aluminum cans, and recent research found it’s in pretty much every cash register receipt you touch. And quite a few of the older plastic food storage containers in your cupboard may be made of plastics containing BPA.

Flame Retardants in Furniture

(Don Farrall via Getty Images)

Another type of flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, is used in carpets, sofas, and other furniture. Researchers began looking at PBDEs because they’re chemical relatives of BPA, a known obesogen, and sure enough, they appear to act accordingly. According to researchers at the University of New Hampshire, PBDEs slow the metabolism of sugar and fat, leading to weight gain and other changes associated with the cluster of health problems known as metabolic syndrome.

Last week professor of nutrition Gale Carey presented evidence to the annual meeting of Experimental Biology that the fat cells of lab rats exposed to PBDEs for a month became less sensitive to insulin, raising their risk of becoming diabetic. The rats also developed enlarged livers and decreased production of a liver enzyme that’s important in metabolizing sugar and fat. 

A Paint Additive to Prevent Mold

(stevanovicigor via Getty Images)

A chemical used to retard mold and mildew in paint and cloth, tributylin is one of the best-documented obesogens, with numerous studies showing it can cause metabolic changes that increase production of fat cells. In a presentation to the Endocrine Societytwo weeks ago, researchers from Texas A&M University Health Science Center's Institute of Biosciences and Technology showed that baby mice exposed to TBT developed fatty liver and liver disease. Numerous other studies by Blumberg and his team have linked prenatal tributylin exposure with genetic changes leading to more and bigger fat cells. Most worrisome, these changes were carried into subsequent generations.


When we talk about the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. (and it is an epidemic, with 35 percent of adults and 17 percent of kids now obese), we typically go straight to talking about diet and exercise as both culprit and solution. But increasingly there's evidence of another player in the mix: a cluster of environmental chemicals now collectively known as obesogens.

Every month, it seems, more evidence emerges linking these toxins to our growing national problem with fat and related ills such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. And the list of implicated chemicals is growing as well, now extending to flame retardants, pesticides, plasticizers, and industrial by-products.

How do chemicals trigger our bodies to gain weight? The exact mechanisms haven't yet been identified; much of the research is still in early stages. But the gist is that certain chemicals appear to set the stage for obesity by priming cells, both in utero and after birth, to be more fat-friendly.

According to Jerry Heindel, leader of the reproductive and developmental toxicology group of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, more than 15 chemicals and classes of chemicals have been identified as potential "obesogens."

"We have 57 separate studies under way and can expect a huge increase in the amount of data available," Heindel said.

In other words, what we know today is just the beginning. Of the toxins under study, which are the worst offenders? It's early to make predictions, but here are five chemicals or groups of chemicals that recent studies have found to be potential fat triggers.

See what choices can help curb childhood obesity:

A Few Simple Choices Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

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