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Environmental Contributions to Body Fat

A new word to me this year: obesogen, meaning environmental factors that act as endocrine disruptors in the realm of obesity. Previously identified hormone disruptors have mainly been estrogen analogues, turning male frogs into hermaphrodites, or feminization in other forms. We know now that adipose tissue - rather than just being a fat storage unit - produces its own hormones, and some of those contribute to the maintenance or expansion of existing adipose tissue. Obesogens are environmental chemicals which mimic or stimulate those hormones and contribute to obesity, regardless of dietary status.

Here's the list from one of the ten most viewed Medscape articles of 2012, appearing in Environmental Health Perspectives:

  • chemical pesticides
  • certain pharmaceuticals (drugs for type 2 diabetes)
  • the soy phytoestrogen known as genistein
  • chemicals found in designer handbags, wallpaper, vinyl blinds, tile, and vacuum dust
  • MSG
  • Phthalates and other plasticizers
  • Scented items such as air fresheners, laundry products (I've always hated dryer sheets) and personal care products
  • PFOA, a surface treatment on synthetic fabrics, including Gore-tex clothing, Scotch-garded items, mattresses, etc.

A few other substances qualify as likely problems

  • nicotine, which causes underweight babies at birth, who secondarily get "catch up" obesity
  • DES, by the same mechanism (di-ethyl stilbesterol, an estrogen no longer used in pregnancy)
  • and BPA, at least in animal studies

Weight maintenance is hard enough without unconscious and unenjoyed obesogens, wouldn't you agree?

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