Many of us are aware that what we put on our plate, or more specifically, in our mouth, can have a direct effect on our body weight. But what about the products we rub into our skin, the pesticides we spray on our crops, and the chemicals we clean our house with? As scientists have discovered, these chemicals can be directly linked to the increasing incidence of obesity, not just among humans, but among animals as well. Their effect is so pronounced, they have been given the name obesogens, meaning they actively promote obesity.
What Are Obesogens?
An obesogen is any chemical that stimulates the production or storage of fat. They are becoming increasingly prevalent in our modern world, and have been found in plastic food containers, personal care products, cleaning supplies, pesticides, perfumes, shower curtains and even household plumbing.
Obesogens have also been linked to a whole host of health issues, extending far beyond weight gain and obesity. This includes behavioural disorders, such as ADHD and autism, as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Scarily, they have been linked to reduced sperm counts, increased rates of infertility and early-onset puberty. For our patients trying to conceive, exposure of the baby to obesogens during early development (including during pregnancy) can predispose the child to weight problems and obesity in later life. This is scary stuff, and certainly just the tip of the iceberg.
Obesogens have been shown to worsen insulin resistance, increase appetite, encourage fat storage and increase both the size and number of fat cells around the body. For men, obesogens also have feminising effects.
How Do They Work?
Obesogens are an endocrine disruptor, meaning they disturb and disrupt the body’s normal hormonal profile. They can do this even at low doses, especially because we can be exposed to them from many different sources, over many weeks, months and years. Sadly, babies in the womb are most vulnerable to their effects.
Where Do They Come From?
Obesogens are relatively ubiquitous in our modern world, and have been found in:
- Cigarette smoke (yet another reason to give up!)
- Plastic food containers (especially after microwaving)
- Personal care products and perfumes – Anything containing fragrances, parabens and/or certain preservatives
- Non-stick cookware (in the form of perflurooctanoic acid)
- Air pollution
- BPA, a chemical found in certain plastics, receipt paper and tinned food packaging
- PVC, a type of plastic found in shower curtains, water pipes, synthetic carpets and flooring
- Pesticide residues on some fruit and vegetables
How Can You Minimise Your Exposure?
The best way to minimise your exposure to obesogens (especially if you are pregnant or planning to conceive) is to minimise your chemical exposure as much as possible. See below for some suggestions to reduce yours and your family’s exposure 🙂
- Choose natural, preservative and fragrance free personal care products (check out our Resources page for heaps of fantastic options).
- Replace harsh household cleaning supplies with more natural alternatives (again, our Resources page has a list of great brands to choose from).
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating them and where possible, choose organic produce (especially for Dirty Dozen items, like strawberries and apples). Alternatively, if you have the time and space, consider growing some of your own fruit, veggies and fresh herbs.
- Avoid microwaving or storing foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap – Choose microwave-safe glass or ceramic instead. For food storage, pyrex or stainless steel containers are a great option.
- For tinned foods (such as precooked lentils and beans), try to choose brands that use BPA-free cans. Alternatively, try cooking these foods yourself and freezing them ahead of time. In most recipes, tinned tomatoes can be swapped for a simple tomato passata, which usually comes in a glass container instead of a tin.
- Swap plastic drink bottles for glass or stainless steel options.
By starting with the basics – plastics, fragrances, pesticides and so on – we can make simple changes to our everyday routines to drastically reduce our chemical exposure and improve our health in the process. By being more aware of what we put in and on our body’s, we can learn to navigate our modern environment and therefore avoid some of the harsher chemicals we may be exposed to on a daily basis!