Obesogens: Are Endocrine Disruptors Making Us Fat?

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Plastics can contain a multitude of unhealthy endocrine disruptors including the obesogen bisphenol A (BPA).

Obesogens. Their name says it all. Identified in 2006 by Bruce Blumberg, professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine, obesogens are part of a larger group of synthetic chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. Similar in chemical structure to the hormones that control body functions, obesogens disrupt normal cell development.

The new and developing science of obesogens took a surprising turn earlier this year with a study coauthored by Blumberg in Environmental Health Perspectives, a prestigious publication of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. The study exposed pregnant mice to low levels of tributyltin, an antifungal chemical added to some paints and plastics. The exposure resulted in increased body fat and liver fat in three generations of mice, even when the second and third generations were not directly exposed.

“We showed how effects of chemicals can persist for generations into the future,” Blumberg says. “It means we have to be more cautious about the types of chemicals we let out into the environment, and we are not doing that.”

Obesogens can be found in substances we touch, smell and taste every day. How can we possibly avoid exposure? Blumberg recommends removing as much plastic from your life as you can, and steering clear of packaged, processed, pre-made food. Prepare your own meals with fresh ingredients to avoid endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in a lot of plastic packaging and can linings. You’ll also be much better off if your food is organic, he adds. (For more on important plastics to avoid, go to Dangerous Plastics, Safe Plastics.)

To get details on the effects of chemicals that pervade our lives, Blumberg recommends reading the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Canadian environmentalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. After perusing it, however, you might want to watch your favorite comedy film and have some laughs. “The stress from being scared is as bad as some of the chemical effects,” Blumberg cautions.

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