Obesogens

30 01 2019

Researchers have come to a greater understanding of the multiple factors that influence obesity, which of course include our diet, but also our hormones, bio-individuality,  epigenetics and increasingly, the environment.  While lack of activity, poor diet, and genetics are frequently blamed for this problem, could there be other factors in the environment affecting our weight gain?

Many in the medical and exercise physiology communities remain wedded to poor diet and lack of exercise as the sole causes of obesity. However, researchers are gathering convincing evidence of chemical “obesogens”—dietary, pharmaceutical, and industrial compounds that may alter metabolic processes and predispose some people to gain weight.   Research in recent years has shown that an increase of chemicals in our diet , called obesogens, could be contributing to the obesity epidemic we are now facing.

Obesogens are a category of endocrine disruptors — chemicals that can interfere with your hormones. (1)

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The Environmental Health Policy Institute (EHPI) states that certain endocrine disrupting chemicals affect how the body creates and stores fat, and which could be contributing to the current obesity  epidemic. There is a  growing list of obesogens: hidden chemicals that might be making your family gain unintended weight through a variety of means. Low doses of these endocrine disruptors can actually have a worse effects than high doses. So what are the actions and effects of these obesogens?

Some endocrine disruptors exert their effects by activating estrogen receptors, which can cause harmful effects in both women and men. Estrogen receptors are thought to be “promiscuous,” meaning that they will bind to anything that looks even remotely like an estrogen.  Some obesogens have not only been linked to obesity, but also to birth defects, premature puberty in girls, demasculinization in men, breast cancer and other disorders.

Unfortunately, many of these effects happen in the womb. For example, when pregnant women are exposed to these chemicals, their child’s risk of becoming obese later in life may increase. Obesity has risen steadily in the United States over the past 150 years, with a marked uptick in recent decades. In the United States today more than 35% of adults as well as 17% of children aged 2–19 years are obese.(2) Obesity plagues people not just in the United States but worldwide, including, increasingly, developing countries.  Even animals—pets, laboratory animals, and urban rats—have experienced increases in average body weight over the past several decades,(3) trends not necessarily explained by diet and exercise. In the words of Robert H. Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, “[E]ven those at the lower end of the BMI [body mass index] curve are gaining weight. Whatever is happening is happening to everyone, suggesting an environmental trigger.”

The idea that chemicals in the environment could be contributing to the obesity epidemic is often credited to an article by Paula Baillie-Hamilton, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002.(4) Her article presented evidence from earlier toxicologic studies published as far back as the 1970s in which low-dose chemical exposures were associated with weight gain in experimental animals. At the time, however, the original researchers did not focus on the implications of the observed weight gains.

The role of environmental chemicals in obesity has garnered increased attention in academic and policy spheres, and was recently acknowledged by the Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity and the National Institutesof Health (NIH) Strategic Plan for Obesity Research. “Over the past ten years, and especially the past five years, there’s been a flurry of new data,” says Kristina Thayer, director of the Office of Health Assessment and Translation at the National Toxicology Program (NTP). “There are many studies in both humans and animals. The NTP found real biological plausibility.” In 2011 the NIH launched a 3-year effort to fund research exploring the role of environmental chemical exposures in obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome.(5)

The main role of fat cells is to store energy and release it when needed. Scientists also now know that fat tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing hormones related to appetite and metabolism. Research to date suggests different obesogenic compounds may have different mechanisms of action, some affecting the number of fat cells, others the size of fat cells, and still others the hormones that affect appetite, satiety, food preferences, and energy metabolism. Some obesogenic effects may pass on to later generations through epigenetic changes, heritable modifications to DNA and histone proteins that affect when and how genes are expressed in cells, without altering the actual genetic code.

Bruce Blumberg, a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, coined the term “obesogen” in 2006 when he discovered that tin-based compounds known as organotins predisposed laboratory mice to gain weight.(6) “If you give tributyltin [TBT] to pregnant mice, their offspring are heavier than those not exposed,” he says. “We’ve altered the physiology of these offspring, so even if they eat normal food, they get slightly fatter.” (7)

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Human exposure and health-effect data are relatively rare for organotins, but studies have documented the presence of these compounds in human blood, milk, and liver samples. Although phased out as a biocide and marine antifouling agent, TBT is still used as a wood preservative and, along with dibutyltin, as a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride; it pollutes many waterways and contaminates seafood.

Animal studies have also implicated another suspected obesogen: bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in medical devices, in the lining of some canned foods, and in cash register receipts – as well as in polyester fabrics. (8) “BPA reduces the number of fat cells but programs them to incorporate more fat, so there are fewer but very large fat cells,” explains University of Missouri biology professor Frederick vom Saal, who has studied BPA for the past 15 years.“In animals, BPA exposure is producing in animals the kind of outcomes that we see in humans born light at birth: an increase in abdominal fat and glucose intolerance.”(9)

Still another widespread obesogen is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a potential endocrine disruptor. “Pretty much everyone in the U.S. has it in their blood, kids having higher levels than adults, probably because of their habits. They crawl on carpets, on furniture, and put things in their mouth more often,” explains NIEHS biologist Suzanne Fenton. PFOA is a surfactant used for reduction of friction, and it is also used in nonstick cookware (i.e., Teflon), Gore-Tex™ waterproof clothing, Scotchgard™ stain repellent on carpeting, mattresses, and microwavable food items. In 2005 DuPont settled a class-action lawsuit for $107.6 million after its factory was found to have tainted  Parkersburg, WV  drinking water supplies with PFOA. (10)

Another obesogen is phthalates.  Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics soft and flexible.  They are found in various products, including food containers, toys, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains and paint.  They are in the vast majority of textile printing inks. These chemicals can easily leach out of plastics and contaminate foods, the water supply and even the very air we breathe.

A Swedish study found that children can absorb airborne phthalates from plastic floor material through the skin and respiratory tract.  In a study by the CDC, most Americans tested positive for phthalate metabolites in their urine (11).  Like BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, affecting the hormonal balance in your body.

Phthalates may be contributing to increased susceptibility to weight gain by affecting hormone receptors called PPARs, which are involved in metabolism.  Studies in humans have shown that phthalate levels in the body are associated with obesity, increased waist circumference and insulin resistance.

t appears that men are particularly susceptible. Studies show that phthalate exposure in the womb leads to genital malformations, undescended testicles and low testosterone levels.

Many of these obesogens – pesticides, BPA, PFOAs, Phthalates, TBTi, PCBs – are used regularly in textile production and they remain residual in the fabrics.  Phthalates were found in all the garments tested by Greenpeace (Greenpeace bought a range of clothing from 19 countries around the world) from 1.4 mg/kg to 200,000 mg/kg – or more than 20% of the weight of the sample.(12)

Another good reason to seek out minimally Oeko-Tex 100 fabric, or, better, GOTS certified fabric.

[1] Janesick, AS, Blumberg B:   “Obesogens: an emerging threat to public health”, Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 May;214(5):559-65. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.01.182. Epub 2016 Jan 29.

(2) Ogden CL, et al. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999–2010. JAMA.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2012.40 [online 17 Jan 2012]

(3) Klimentidis YC, et al. Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics. Proc R Soc Biol Sci. 2011;278(1712):1626–1632.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.1890.

(4) Baillie-Hamilton, PF, “Chemical toxins: a hypotheses to explain the global obesity epidemic”, J Althern Complement Med. 2002; 8(2): 185-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/107555302317371479

(5) National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Obesogens”, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/obesity/obesogens/index.cfm

(6)  Blumberg, B, Grun, F; “Environmental obesogens:  organotins and endocrine disruption vis nuclear receptor signaling”; Endocrinol. 2006; 147(6): S50-S55; http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/en.2005-1129

(7) Ibid.

(8) Somm E, et al. “Perinatal  bisphenol A alters adipogenesis in the rat”; Environ Health Perspect. 2009; 117(10): 1549-1555. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.11342

(9) Philpott, T; “Can BPA make you fat?” Mother Jones, May, 2012.

(10) DuPont Reaches Settlement with Class Action Group (press release).  Wilmington, DC and Parkersburg WV:  Dupont (2 Sept 2004). http://www2.dupont.com/Media_Center/en_US/news_releases/2004/nr09_09_04.html

(11) B.C. Blount et al; “Levels of seven urinary phthalate  metabolites in a human reference population”, Environ Health Perspect; 2000 Oct, 108(10): 978-982.

(12)  Pedersen, H; Hartmann, J, “Toxic Textiles by Disney”; Greenpeace; Brussels, April 2004

 

 

 

 





Nichlos Kristof gets it!

24 04 2018

Nicholas Kristof had an editorial in the New York Times on February 25, 2018. This is a reproduction of his editorial:

 Our bodies are full of poisons from products we use every day. I know – I’ve had my urine tested for them. Surprised? So was I when I had my urine tested for these chemicals. (A urine or blood test is needed to confirm whether you have been exposed.)

Let me stress that mine should have been clean.

Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting! on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip. Believe me, the scariest horror stories are found in urology journals. If you’re a man, you don’t wring your hands as you read; you clutch your crotch.

So I’ve tried for years now to limit my exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Following the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel, I eat organic to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in pesticides. I try to store leftover meals in glass containers, not plastic. I avoid handling A.T.M. and gas station receipts. I try to avoid flame-retardant furniture.

Those are all common sources of toxic endocrine disruptors, so I figured that my urine would test pristine. Pure as a mountain creek.

                        Here are 12 chemicals found in everyday products:

Chemical Details Found in products like:
Antimicrobials Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones Colgate Total toothpaste, soap, deodorant
Benzophenones Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Sunscreen, lotions, lip balm
Bisphenols Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Protective lining for canned goods, hard plastic water bottles, thermal paper register receipts.
1,4-Dichlorobenzene Can affect thyroid hormones and my increase risk of cancer Mothballs, toilet deodorizers
Parabens Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Cosmetics, personal care products like shampoos, hair gels, lotions
Phthalates Can disrupt male reproductive development and fertility

 

Vinyl shower curtains, fast food, nail polish, perfume/cologne
Fragrance Chemicals Can exacerbate asthma symptoms and disrupt natural hormones. Perfume/cologne, cleaning products, dryer sheets, air fresheners
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Can affect hormones, immune response in children, and may increase risk of cancer. Scotchgard and other stain-resistant treatments, fast-food wrappers.
Flame Retardants Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer Nail polish, foam cushioning in furniture, rigid foam insulation.

The Silent Spring Institute near Boston, which studies chemical safety, offers a “Detox Me Action Kit” to help consumers determine what harmful substances are in their bodies. Following instructions, I froze two urine samples (warning my wife and kids that day to be careful what food they grabbed from the freezer) and Fed-Exed them off for analysis.

By the way, the testing is for women, too. Men may wince as they read about miniaturized alligator penises, but endocrine disruptors have also been linked to breast cancer and gynecological cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns women that endocrine disruptors can also cause miscarriages, fetal defects and much more.[1]

As I waited for the lab results, I continued to follow the latest research. One researcher sent a bizarre video of a mouse exposed to a common endocrine disruptor doing back flips nonstop, as a kind of nervous tic.

Finally, I heard back from Silent Spring Institute. I figured this was a report card I had aced. I avoid all that harmful stuff. In my columns, I had advised readers how to avoid it.

Sure enough, I had a low level of BPA, best known because plastic bottles now often boast “BPA Free.” But even a diligent student like me failed the test. Badly. I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful (it takes longer for the body to break it down). BPF is similar to that substance that made those mice do back flips.

“These types of regrettable substitutions — when companies remove a chemical that has a widely known bad reputation and substitute a little-known bad actor in its place — are all too common,” Rudel told me. “Sometimes we environmental scientists think we are playing a big game of whack-a-mole with the chemical companies.”

Sigh. I thought I was being virtuous by avoiding plastics with BPA, but I may have been causing my body even more damage.

My urine had an average level of an endocrine disruptor called triclosan, possibly from soap or toothpaste. Like most people, I also had chlorinated phenols (perhaps from mothballs in my closet).

I had a high level of a flame retardant called triphenyl phosphate, possibly from a floor finish, which may be “neurotoxic.” Hmm. Whenever you see flaws in my columns, that’s just my neurotoxins at work.

                            My lab results: high levels of FOUR chemicals were found

CHEMICAL DETAILS
1,4- DICHLOROBENZENE Can affect thyroid hormones and may increase risk of cancer
ANTIMICROBIALS Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones
BISPHENOLS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
FLAME RETARDANTS Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer
BENZOPHENONES Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
PARABENS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen

Notes: Benzophenones and parabens were also found, but in lower levels than in most Americans. Tests for phthalates and fragrance chemicals were not included.

Will these endocrine disruptors give me cancer? Make me obese? Make my genitals fall off? Nobody really knows. At least I haven’t started doing random back flips yet.

The steps I took did help, and I recommend that others consult consumer guides such as at ewg.org to reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals. Likewise, if I had downloaded the Detox Me smartphone app, I would have known to get rid of those mothballs, along with air fresheners and scented candles. (Science lesson: A less fragrant house means cleaner pee.)

Yet my takeaway is also that chemical industry lobbyists have rigged the system so that we consumers just can’t protect ourselves adequately.

“You should not have to be a Ph.D toxicologist to be safe from so many of the chemicals in use,” Dr. Richard Jackson of U.C.L.A. told me. “So much of what we are exposed to is poorly tested and even less regulated.”

The Trump administration has magnified the problem by relaxing regulation of substances like chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical’s nerve gas pesticide. The swamp has won.

So the saddest lesson is that even if you understand the peril and try to protect yourself and your family — as I strongly suggest you do — your body may still be tainted. The chemical companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying and have gotten the lightest regulation that money can buy.

They are running the show, and we consumers are their lab mice.

[1] “Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents”, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.





Toxic textiles by Walt Disney

27 01 2011

The Walt Disney Corporation,  in a letter to Greenpeace in 2003, said that “the Walt Disney Company is always concerned with quality and safety”.

Greenpeace decided to test that statement, so – as part of their campaign to show how dangerous chemicals are out of control, turning up in house dust, in household products, food, rain water, in our clothes……and ultimately in our bodies – they decided to test Disney’s childrenswear for the presence of toxic chemicals.

Disney garments, including T-shirts, pajamas and underwear, were bought in retail outlets in 19 different countries around the world and  analyzed  by the independent laboratory Eurofins, an international group of companies which provides testing, certification and consulting on the quality and safety of products and one of the largest scientific testing laboratories in the world. 

Greenpeace asked Eurofins to test the Disney childrenswear for:

1.      Phthalates

2.      Alkylphenol ethoxylates

3.      Organotins

4.      Lead

5.      Cadmium

6.      Formaldehyde

We don’t have the space to fill you in on why each of these six chemicals is of grave concern, but please believe us – they’re not good.  Any one of these chemicals can interfere with a child’s neurological development, for example, or can set the path for a cascade of health problems as they age.   

This is what they found:

1.      Phthalates:  Found in all the garments tested, from 1.4 mg/kg to 200,000 mg/kg – or more than 20% of the weight of the sample.

2.      Alkylphenol ethoxylates: Found in all the garments tested, in levels ranging from 34.1 mg/kg to 1,700 mg/kg

3.      Organotins:  found in 9 of the 16 products tested; the Donald Duck T shirt from The Netherlands had 474 micrograms/kg

4.      Lead:  Found in all the products tested, ranging from 0.14 mg/kg to 2,600 mg/kg for a Princess T shirt from Canada.  With Denmark’s new laws on the use, marketing and manufacture of lead   and products containing lead, the Princess T shirt from Canada would be illegal on the Danish market.  Canada has set a limit of 600 mg/kg for children’s jewelry containing lead – why not Disney T shirts?

5.      Cadmiun:  Identified in 14 of the 18 products tested, ranging from 0.0069 mg/kg in the Finding Nemo T shirt bought in the UK to 38 mg/kg in the Belgian Mickey Mouse T shirt.

6.      Formaldehyde:  Found in 8 of the 15 products tested for this chemical in levels ranging from 23 mg/kg to 1,100 mg/kg.

One sample stands out: a German Winnie the Pooh PVC raincoat.  This contained an astounding 320,000 mg/kg of total phthalates, or 32% by weight of the raincoat!  This raincoat also contained 1,129 micrograms/kg organotins.

Greenpeace urged Disney to take responsibility for avoiding or substituting harmful chemicals in their products and to demand that their licensees implement a chemical policy that protects children’s heath.  Disney reacted by stating that their products are in line with the law.    The only action taken was to put labels on some products with a warning that those clothes contain toxic chemicals – but  only in the UK (which has more stringent laws regarding chemical use than does the US), and only on a few items.  Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner Oliver Knowles said, “”Their complete disregard for children’s health smacks of a Mickey Mouse company, and it’s now down to us to let the public know that these pyjamas contain dangerous chemicals.

“Perhaps it would be more apt if Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase became   “To infertility and beyond!”

SAFbaby.com has asked a variety of children’s clothing companies whether their clothing contained formaldehyde.  Disney responded that they comply with all Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations.   But (as SAFbaby commented): CPSC has NO regulations set for formaldehyde levels, so that reply was not helpful to us in the slightest.  We are not impressed with their follow up response to us.

Disney’s refusal to be pro active in insisting their suppliers phase out hazardous substances demonstrates why voluntary initiatives don’t work.  We support Greenpeace in asking that legislation  to require mandatory substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives be put in place.

Read the Greenpeace report on Disney’s childrenswear here.