In 2007, a cell biologist by the name of Bruce Blumberg from the University of California, Irvine introduced a new word into our vocabulary.
It all started with a chemical called tributyltin. Used as a fungicide in paints to keep fungus from growing on various surfaces, Dr. Blumberg discovered tributyltin was making animals fat.
After uncovering more chemicals that appeared to stimulate fat-cell activity in both animals and humans, Dr. Blumberg introduced a new villain in our war against fat.
He called these fat-triggering chemicals “obesogens“… and the rest is history.
What exactly are Obesogens?
An obesogen is a chemical that increases fat storage, changes metabolic set points, and can even disrupt our ability to regulate our appetites.
There are many ways that obesogens can exert their effect and the jury is still out on their exact mechanism of action.
And although some chemicals have already been identified as obesogens, scientists predict that many more chemicals will be identified in the near future.1 This is alarming because it is difficult to stay away from something when you don’t know it is dangerous.
So far, scientists have uncovered quite a few chemicals we encounter in everyday life that do, in fact, appear to be obesogens.
We can encounter obesogens when we use plastic water bottles, nonstick pans, shower curtains, toys, and even shopping receipts.
- You may have heard about Bisphenol-A (BPA) in the news. This chemical is commonly used in almost every plastic you can think of. Although you can find some sources of “BPA Free” water bottles and food storage containers, this alone will not prevent you from absorbing this obesogen.
That’s because, even with “BPA Free” products, there are plenty of other possible sources of exposure. For instance, BPA is contained in toys, canned goods, baby bottles, vinyl goods, medical equipment and a host of other everyday products. And research now suggests you can absorb BPA through the skin.2
- Although nicotine can help with appetite reduction, it also appears to be an obesogen. But in this case it is not the smoker who suffers from the weight gain, it is her children. There is a strong association between maternal smoking and childhood obesity.3
- I know it is extremely inconvenient to clean pans that don’t have a non-stick coating, but it appears the chemical used to create this modern day miracle, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is an obesogen.4 Furthermore, prenatal exposure can lead to adult obesity.5
- Produce in our supermarkets looks healthy, but it turns out some of the pesticides used to create a greater yield are also obesogens. Some are short lived, but the real danger lies in what scientists call “persistent organic pollutants (POPS).”6 What this means is that these obesogens remain in your system long enough to cause long term weight issues.
In 2011 researchers found that the amount of serum POPS in a group of 71 obese people were two to three times higher than in a group of 18 lean people. What is more alarming is that after losing weight using bariatric surgery, the obese subject’s serum POPS levels increased… leading to possible liver toxicity.7
- A lot of people now rely on pharmaceutical drugs in order to alleviate depression. Common antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) appear to be obesogens.8 This is sad news as I know many people who have benefitted immensely from these compounds.
I want to be clear that this list is by no means exhaustive. As I was researching the subject, I came across a lot of other chemicals that show evidence of being obesogens… but I am trying to be very careful. This is relatively new information, and one has to be careful about sounding the alarm bells too early.
Staying clear of obesogens?
It is tempting to provide you some quick and easy ways to prevent or reverse exposure to obesogens, but at this point I do not feel comfortable enough with my grasp of this information. I am going to be talking to some endocrinologists and diving much deeper into the subject before doing anything of the sort.
Personally, I am going to do my best to stay away from the five I mentioned above. And as far as reversing the effects of obesogen exposure, I would be very skeptical of “detox” and “miracle cures” for the time being. There is little to no evidence of their effectiveness in reversing the effects of obesogens.
This is VERY important
I understand that when reading this, it might be easy to blame any weight problem you may have on obesogens. However, this would contradict reality. Thousands of studies support the fact that almost everybody can lose weight with proper diet, exercise and supplementation.
Although there may be exceptions, you can lose fat in spite of obesogen exposure. The obesogens might be making your job more difficult… which is all the more reason why you should change your diet for the better and get more exercise, to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and live a longer more vibrant life.
Based on what I know so far, the effects of overeating, lack of exercise, inflammation, stress, excess blood sugar, and hormonal imbalances are far more detrimental to your weight loss efforts than the existence of obesogen exposure… but I will get to the bottom of this.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
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1. Grün F, Blumberg B (May 2009).”Endocrine disrupters as obesogens”. Mol. Cell. Endocrinol. 304 (1-2): 19–29. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2009.02.018.
2. Zeratsky K (July 2010). “What are the health concerns about BPA?”. Mayo Clin Womens Healthsource 14 (7): 8. PMID 20517192.
3. Thayer KA, Heindel JJ, Bucher JR, Gallo MA (February 2012). “Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Report”. Environ Health Perspect 120 (6): 779–89
4. White SS, Fenton SE, Hines EP (October 2011). “Endocrine disrupting properties of perfluorooctanoic acid”. J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 127 (1-2): 16–26.
5. Hines EP, White SS, Stanko JP, Gibbs-Flournoy EA, Lau C, Fenton SE (May 2009). “Phenotypic dichotomy following developmental exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in female CD-1 mice: Low doses induce elevated serum leptin and insulin, and overweight in mid-life”. Mol. Cell. Endocrinol. 304 (1-2): 97–105
6. Lind L, Lind PM (February 2012). “Can persistent organic pollutants and plastic-associated chemicals cause cardiovascular disease?”. J Intern Med 271 (6): 537–53.
7. At a Glance | 119(3) Mar 2011. Environ Health Perspect 119:a106-a109
8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, United States National Institutes of Health (September 1998). “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults–The Evidence Report. National Institutes of Health”. Obes. Res. 6 Suppl 2: 51S–209S.