It’s a sad habit of our culture to blame overweight people for eating too much. While obesity is no doubt the result of overeating, there’s another, lesser-known reason behind weight gain.
The science points to our processed, chemically-laden food, mixed with the everyday toxins we’re exposed to, as secretly contributing to millions of pounds of weight gain every year across the globe.
These micro-poisons are so pervasive, they now have a class all their own: obesogens. Left to do their damage, obesogens are the first step down the rotten road to not only weight gain, but also serious diseases like cancer.
The first thing you need to know about obesogens is that they pretend to be one of the good guys. They mimic the actions of hormones that naturally occur in your body, so your body doesn’t recognize them as impostors.
That’s when their damage begins. Obesogens act as endocrine disruptors and effectively block your natural hormones from acting as they should, according to a review in The Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
If that’s not bad enough, the research shows how obesogens can reprogram existing cells to become fat cells and encourage your body to store fat. They can also cause your liver to grow insulin resistant, forcing your pancreas to work overtime pumping out extra insulin, which can result in diabetes and weight gain.
One of the worst tricks obesogens play in your body is keeping fat cells from releasing leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells your body it’s full and it’s time to quit eating.
So, what happens? You keep eating. You gain weight. Fat encroaches on your organs and puts you at risk for cancer.
The fat-cancer link
It’s a well-established medical fact that fat and obesity are directly tied to several cancers, including cancers of the breast, uterus, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, and colon, according to the famed MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.
Though there are several possible explanations as to why fat triggers cancer, most experts believe inflammation is the key. This is especially true when it comes to visceral fat, the kind of fat that surrounds your abdominal organs. Visceral fat cells are quite large and don’t leave a lot of room for oxygen, which triggers inflammation.
Too much visceral fat and your body also alters its ability to regulate hormones, which affects how often and when certain cells divide and die.
For example, inflammation disrupts your ability to respond to insulin, which triggers an increase in the number of cells produced. This can lead to cancer. In addition, increased insulin leads to more available estrogen, which also increases cancer risk.
When healthy cells reproduce to excess, the chances multiply that some of the new cells will be abnormal and develop into cancer. Remember, cancer cells reproduce in an out-of-control fashion. The more cells divide and reproduce, the more likely they are to damage other cells around them and cause illness, and the higher the risk of a tumor.
Where obesogens lurk
The obvious solution is to avoid obesogens. So where do you find these evil fat-making cancer-causers?
Unfortunately, these days, you find them just about everywhere and that includes:
- Anything with high fructose corn syrup (which means the majority of the products you find in the grocery store). High fructose corn syrup is an obesogen.
- Your tap water, thanks to pesticides that ooze into the soil and down into the water supply. Atrazine is the main pesticide obesogen to be aware of because it slows your thyroid function. Atrazine is banned in Europe but still permitted in the U.S. Tributylin, a fungicide often painted on the bottom of boats, is another major offender, as it’s a stimulant of fat cell production.
- Nonstick pans, thanks to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical that affects the thyroid and leads to obesity.
- Microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes because they also contain PFOA.
- Aluminum food cans and plastic water bottles, thanks to BPA, or Bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen used to make plastics hard and found in the lining of most cans. It’s been banned from baby bottles, but you’ll still find it in other plastics, and especially sports water bottles. BPA increases insulin resistance.
- Artificial fragrances, like air fresheners, which contain a hefty dose of phthalates. These are chemicals that may lower metabolism and testosterone, leading to weight gain and loss of muscle.
- Vinyl shower curtains, vinyl sheet flooring, and industrial-grade plastic wrap (the kind used to shrink wrap meat in the grocery store), also have high levels of phthalates.
How to steer clear of chemical sabotage
With obesogens, it all comes down to choice. What you choose to eat and drink or bring inside your home will determine whether your future health is affected by these tiny saboteurs.
Here are some better choices you can start making right now to avoid obesogens:
- If you buy meat, get it straight from the butcher counter and not pre-packaged. Request that it be wrapped in brown paper and not plastic.
- If you buy fish, look for those that are free of both hormones and antibiotics, and buy wild whenever possible (especially in the case of salmon).
- Avoid eating processed foods with high fructose corn syrup.
- Put your water in aluminum or glass water bottles, or at least those clearly listed as BPA-free.
- If you have any plastics with the number three or seven on the bottom, toss them out. They could potentially leach BPA into your body through your food and beverages. Look instead for numbers one, two, four, five and six – those aren’t likely to have BPA.
- If you do drink from a plastic water bottle, make sure it hasn’t been heated up (such as from sitting in a hot car). Plastic bottles that have been heated are at greater risk of leaching BPA. For the same reason, never ever microwave something in any kind of plastic.
- Stay away from canned foods when possible. Frozen is better. Fresh is best. Even tuna can be bought in pouches that don’t have BPA.
- Trash all of your non-stick pans. And if non-stick is currently your only option, take care to use wooden or silicone stirring utensils and not metal. Metal scratches away the chemical coating and mixes it right into your food. If you can see the coating has started to wear off a pan, it’s definitely time to toss it.
- Get yourself a granular-activated carbon filter for any water faucets used for eating or drinking. These can help filter out unwanted chemicals like atrazine.
Obesogens are an unfortunate part of our world, but with a little thought and planning, they don’t have to lead to weight gain or increase your risk of cancer.
- “Understanding Obesogens.” From Dr. Oz, retrieved 14.12.2020. https://www.doctoroz.com/article/understanding-obesogens
- “How does obesity cause cancer?” By Danielle Underferth, June 2017.
- “Environmental Obesogens: Mechanisms and Controversies.”By Jerrold J. Heindel and Bruce Blumberg, Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2019 Jan 6;59:89-106. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30044726/
- “Endocrine Disruptors and Obesity.” By Philippa D. Darbre, Curr Obes Rep. 2017; 6(1): 18–27.
- “Environmental Obesogens and Their Impact on Susceptibility to Obesity: New Mechanisms and Chemicals.” By Riann Jenay Egusquiza, Bruce Blumberg, Endocrinology, Volume 161, Issue 3, March 2020, bqaa024. https://academic.oup.com/endo/article/161/3/bqaa024/5739626