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Are chemicals making us gain weight?

Are chemicals making us gain weight?

It’s a commonly held belief that weight depends almost exclusively on regulating the quantity and types of foods you eat, along with exercise. Just about every nutritionist, personal trainer, or health professional will agree—diet and exercise (and perhaps more sleep) is the only way to drop the pounds.

But while this is still a chief way to regulate weight, alarming new research suggests that chemicals in common food and consumer products are heavily linked to the spike in obesity and diabetes in the last 30 years.

A new report called “Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes” found that the chemicals humans are exposed to both in the womb and throughout life may disrupt endocrine, sex, and thyroid hormones—such as insulin, estrogen, and androgen—and metabolic functions.

The paper stresses that while roughly 12,000 new chemicals are added daily to the American Chemical Society’s CAS registry, the main concern is the long-term, low-dose exposure from substances like pesticides, BPA, organotins, and phthalates. Many chemicals leach from everyday plastics, cleaners, and contaminated foods in schools, homes, and offices. And harmful “old chemicals” like dioxins, PCB coolants, and organochlorine pesticides still contaminate the food supply.

Study co-author Professor Miquel Porta stated, “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying. The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable."

How to battle the triad of weight-gain contributors

It seems like humans are succumbing to the trifecta of obesity and diabetes causes. Our current, conventional food system makes it increasingly difficult to eat foods without monocrop grains like corn and wheat. The zoning of our cities makes walking inconvenient or even dangerous, contributing to sedentary lifestyles. And now, the seemingly harmless, everyday products we never think about are changing (perhaps irreversibly) the very substances (hormones) that control virtually every function in our bodies.

It certainly makes a natural foodie and chemical-phobe want to run screaming for the hills, burdened with only an axe for firewood, a bundle of seeds, and a goat under my arm for goat cheese…let’s not even joke about living without that.

But seriously, it’s peculiar we now have to worry that every item we touch could cause insulin resistance just because chemical companies (ahem, Monsanto, Dow, and BASF—I’m looking at you) convinced manufacturers products couldn’t exist without their chemicals. The thousands of natural companies who exhibited at Expo West are testament that high quality, high-performance, high-profit products sans chemicals can not only be made, but also sold.

Besides advocating for more stringent chemical policy standards, what can you do? Support the brands who make it their mission to combat toxins in products. Start with cleaning supplies that are good for you and good for the environment, and buy organic whenever possible. Plant a garden in your backyard for pesticide-free produce, or if space permits, raise your own chickens for fresh eggs.

Or go live in the woods.

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