Is Plastic Making Us Fat?

By Rachel Cernansky, Planet Green

Hormone-mimicking chemicals that already have a bad rap for their role as endocrine disruptors in the body (including the notorious bisphenol A (BPA)), are now thought to also screw with the body’s metabolism and, depending on the amount and timing of exposure, predispose individuals to obesity.

We’re surrounded by these chemicals: BPA and pthalates are everywhere, from water bottles to dryer sheets to the PVC pipes that deliver your shower water, and they’re taking their toll. Call them obesogens–a term coined by Bruce Blumberg, a leading researcher on the issue. A recent Newsweek story illustrates the increasing body of evidence that links these chemicals to the body’s metabolism.

The problem is two-fold: in developing fetuses and newborn babies, the compounds turn precursor (undeveloped) cells into fat cells, and they may also interfere with the body’s metabolic rate even later on, driving the body to store calories rather than burn them.

How?

No one’s blaming these compounds for the entire obesity epidemic in the United States–fast food and lack of exercise are not off the hook–but emerging research points to obesogens as one cause of the unexplained tendency for some individuals to gain weight no matter what (or how little) they eat or how much they exercise. Obesogens seem to have the ability to disrupt the fundamental rule of weight management and body chemistry: weight gain occurs when calorie consumption exceeds the amount of energy burned. A potential explanation is that the compounds disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm and may cause weight gain by, for example, programming the body’s clock to eat when it should be sleeping.

The effects can also take place during developmental stages: as a Japanese study of cells growing in lab dishes showed, cells that would normally become fibroblasts, or connective tissue, actually became fat cells in the presence of industrial compounds like BPA. (Think of it something like stem cells: before these prefibroblasts are fully formed, their future identity is highly impressionable. In this case, their would-be fate as connective tissue is actually altered so they become fat tissue instead.) In the study, existing fat cells were also stimulated to grow faster and more plentiful.

Such findings certainly help to explain the 2006 Harvard School of Public Health study showing a 73 percent increase in obesity in infants under six months since 1980. That’s nothing to sneeze at–vending machines in school are one thing, fostering unhealthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. But those are behavioral factors, whereas 3-month-old babies aren’t reaching for extra cookies at snacktime. There’s something deeper at play here.

Time to act

Part of the hesitation to discuss the issue publicly has been rooted in the omnipresence of these chemicals and the dumbfounded response that society would have if pressed to eliminate literally all, or even a majority of, the streams through which they are delivered to us. It’s a problem that is truly not easy to solve. But the effects of chemicals on human health are becoming clearer by the day and we just might be close to a tipping point.Watch Planet Green for tips on how you can get involved, and in the meantime, join the fight against BPA, minimize your use of plastic, and detox your home of the hormone-mimicking culprits wherever possible.

251 comments

Dale Overall

Interesting, but it is unlikely this contributes to making one fat, just more toxic poisoning in our lives.

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Margaret M.
Marge F6 years ago

Thank-you for the interesting article.

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Margaret M.
Marge F6 years ago

Thank-you for the interesting article.

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Elizabeth O.
.6 years ago

Useful information.

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Cynthia H.
Cynthia H6 years ago

Scary because I drink tea all day long from plastic bottles that I use over and over (to help cut down on waste.) Seems I need to find a resusable metal container.

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Valerie A.
Valerie A6 years ago

Thanks

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David N.
David N6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

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Alison A.
Alison A6 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Joan Mcallister
6 years ago

Interesting but I am not sure I buy into it.

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Rebecca F.
.6 years ago

thanks

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