Thursday, 02 June 2016 20:47

Are Toxic Chemicals Making you Fat?

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We have become a nation preoccupied with our weight. We now have weight loss programs of all types and we are flooded with information from the media about the need to trim our waistlines.  With all this attention, one would imagine that obesity would be on the decline.  Clearly, it is not. It may be that we concentrating on the wrong thing. 

For decades, the persisting views had been that people are overweight because they eat and drink too much, exercise too little, and doomed by their genetics. 

Those are some of the reasons, but new studies are showing a theory to the obesity epidemic: the changes in our environment and the prevalence of toxins. 

A better understanding of toxin can help us understand a new phenomenon that I've observed in clinical practice: a client who just cannot lose weight despite sticking to a good dietary program, reducing portion size, staying away from processed foods and getting regular exercise. 

The myth of “calories in, calories out” does not work anymore: especially has we get older. Something other than too many calories and no exercise is implicated with our sluggish metabolism.

Culture of Chemicals

More than 80,000 chemicals are used in today's industries, with 22,000 of these introduced in the last four decades. Only 200 of these chemicals have been tested for safety, and only five are regulated through the Toxic Substances Control Act.  Yet dozens of written reports have shown the negative effects of these pollutants, pesticides, plastics, and food additives.  The CDC report published in 2009, established there was “widespread exposure” among study participants to industrial chemicals, such as flame retardants. 

Bisphenol A (found in plastics) and perfluorooctanoic acid (found in non-stick coatings) were also present in most of the participants’ blood and urine samples. The EPA also carried a study on the US population’s exposure to toxic chemicals.  Extended from 1970-1989, this study examined adipose tissue, because many chemical toxins are fat-soluble and will collect in this kind of tissue. The survey documented a “significant prevalence of pesticide residues in the general population” of all ages. Our “culture of chemicals” even affects newborns. In 2004, the Environmental Working Group led a study that examined umbilical cord blood from 10 babies at U.S. hospitals.  They found at least 287 chemicals in the cord blood, including pesticides, flame retardants, perfluorochemicals, and waste from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage. Showing from these studies, it is easy to understand that we have a significant toxic load.  Because toxins are stored in adipose tissue, overweight individuals are carrying an even greater toxic burden than those who are lean.  This burden of toxicity may explain the rise in obesity, and one reason why many individuals cannot lose weight. Scientists have found that certain environmental chemicals act as endocrine disruptors that alter fat production and energy balance, leaving some people more vulnerable to weight gain.  These composites work in different ways. Some change adipogenesis—the process of creating fat cells—causing people to have a larger numbers of fat cells, a bigger size of their current fat cells, or abnormal fat cell distribution. Other toxins change the levels of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, or increase the activity of estrogen. One researcher concluded that the obesity epidemic can’t entirely be explained by changes in food intake, exercise, or even genetics.  She stated that calorie intake has actually dropped throughout the 20th century and that reduction in physical activity do not statistically linked with the dangerous rise in obesity.  Concluding that our exposure to chemicals “may have damaged many of the body’s natural weight-control mechanisms,” she noted that this impact, “may play a significant role in the worldwide obesity epidemic.”  

Weight Gain & Weight Loss Resistance

The shifting of fat cells and the disturbance of hormone levels are just two of many ways by which environmental toxins can operate as endocrine disruptors. They can also increase inflammatory cytokine activity, trigger oxidative stress, and influence energy metabolism. A paper published in Obesity Review in 2003, examined the effects of organochlorines (pesticides and plastics) on metabolic rate and weight regulation. The authors went over 63 studies and established many factors related to weight loss resistance.  They noted that organochlorines, “have been associated with altered immune and thyroid functions, particularly decreased triiodothyronine (T3) concentrations.” Other mechanisms included:

  • Inhibition of enzymes in the mitochondrial electron transport chain (which can decrease energy)
  • Decreased capacity for fatty acid use in skeletal muscle
  • Decrease in thyroxine concentrations (as the toxins compete for the same thyroid receptors)
  • Inflammation and oxidative stress as a cause-and-effect of toxin release

Additionally, some herbicides prompt hormonal shifts, leading to estrogen surplus and increased fat deposition. These herbicides, including the widely used atrazine, induce aromatase activity by as much as 250%. Aromatase is the key enzyme involved in converting androgens to estrogen.

Why Can’t I Lose More Weight?

Many people who are trying to lose weight find that they can lose the first 20 or 30 pounds, but then reach a plateau where it is impossible to lose more. The trouble stems from the fact that when people do lose weight, toxins stored in fat tissue are released into the blood stream.  An increase in toxic load during weight loss—added to an already large toxic burden—can create an inflammatory response that inhibits the body’s inherent, sophisticated detoxification system. This inflammatory process can also deplete reserves of glutathione, an important antioxidant, which compromises the liver’s detoxification process.   

To sustain healthy weight loss and thwart our toxic burden, we need to inquire whether these released toxins can be negated, so that they don’t compromise our metabolism and hormonal balance.   

Maximize Detoxification

This may look like a vicious cycle—the body gains weight because it’s natural metabolism has affected by chemicals, but the procedure of shedding the weight only releases more chemicals to further disrupt the body’s natural functions. The take home message here is that we can increase the efficiency of liver detoxification. Specialized array of nutrients that act as cofactors for phase I and phase II liver detoxification, can improve detoxifying while at the same time providing antioxidants to help with oxidative stress. Herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root, and gotu kola; dietary fibers like insulin, and foods such as vitamin C, bioflavanoids, B vitamins, and amino acids—to mention only a few—should be included as supplemental detoxification support. A low-allergenic, whole foods diet can also hold up the body’s natural detoxification processes by reducing immune system activation. Since weight gain is an inflammatory process, we need to lower the inflammatory load in the diet, not just by reducing the amount of chemical toxins consumed, but also by eliminating the most allergenic foods. This, in turn, lowers systemic inflammation and improves metabolic efficiency. 

I advocate a diet that emphasizes wholesome, clean foods (organic) that includes lean protein, veggies, vegetable starches and fruit. 

Over the years, I have tried many dietary approaches to support detoxification and optimize the body’s natural metabolic system, and I have found this approach to be the most successful.  

What I like about this method is that it supports the healthy functioning of many body functions, not just detoxification and metabolism. Individuals can also lower their toxic load through specific lifestyle changes. Some of these include persticides and herbacides detoxes, detox  baths, skin brushing, drinking filtered water, and changing to stainless steel (rather than coated “non-stick”) cookware. I also recommend switching to more natural, allergen-free household and personal care products.

Self-care cannot be disregarded—developing healthy sleep habits, including relaxation, meditation , and keeping up with an exercise program, increases quality of life. A well-designed detoxification program should not only promote short-term weight loss, but also inspire long-term lifestyle and dietary changes. The advantages of weight loss cannot be overemphasised —a reduction in risk for heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.  Yes, we must deal with the issues of overeating, insufficient exercise, poor food choices, and genetic metabolic concerns. Yet, we can no longer avoid the impact of environmental toxins on weight loss, weight gain, and obesity. 

I have found over the years that a dietary and lifestyle-based detoxification program can shifts body composition, improve insulin regulation, healthier lipid levels, and enhanced liver enzyme function. People who had been unable to shed the weight may find that they’re able to break through the weight loss struggle.

Last modified on Thursday, 02 June 2016 21:03
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