Environmental Contaminants – Are They Making You Fat?

If you’ve been reading Hive Health Media for the past few years, you’re already aware of the burgeoning obesity / diabetes epidemics.  In fact, to simplify the problem that we’re all facing, the term ‘diabesity’ epidemic was recently coined.

In simple terms, we’re all getting fatter collectively.  Fatter and fatter, and well fatter so more.  As funny as that sounds, the cold hard reality is that it’s really not a laughing matter, at all.

In addition to the myriad of health conditions associated with obesity—with diabetes front and center, there’s also the cost to our healthcare systems.  In fact, current estimates in the United States suggest that obesity-related healthcare costs in the range of $147-$210 billion dollars.  To put into other terms, that’s nearly 10x McDonald’s gross annual revenue.

Researchers are looking for pathogenic factors to try to better understand what’s causing this problem.  Now, it doesn’t take a Harvard trained scientist to surmise that spending an inordinate amount of time sitting on your couch in front of your television set while scarfing down Big Macs will make you fat, could there be factors in your environment—ones you’re not aware of that are also contributing to your expanding waist line?


Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Let’s take a look at a study recently published by researchers from the University of Chicago (Regnier et al, 2013).  In this article, the researchers review “endocrine disrupting chemicals” that have potential to perturb metabolic pathways effectively altering how your body metabolizes fat.  While further research is required, there’s already enough evidence to surmise that environmental contaminants could be making you fat.

It’s important to note that researchers point out that the combination of increased consumption of caloric dense food along with physical inactivity are the two primary culprits in the obesity epidemic.  Yet, they note that these two factors themselves are inadequate to fully account for extent and rate of increase of both diabetes and obesity.  If you’re the type of person who likes to read between the lines, that probably means you (like myself) need to exercise more frequently and be a little more cognizant of portion control.

Recent History of the EDC Hypothesis

“The concept that EDCs might alter energy metabolism and contribute to the development of metabolic diseases was first proposed in 2002 by Paula Baillie-Hamilton who noted the coordinate increases in the rates of overweight/obesity and synthetic chemical production in the United States [21]. This ultimately led to the articulation of the “environmental obesogen hypothesis” by Grun and Blumberg in 2006, which postulated a causal link between “obesogens” in the environment and the obesity epidemic [22]. In support of this theory is an expanding body of epidemiological studies correlating various chemicals with elevated body weight in humans [reviewed in Refs.[23–25]], as well as literature linking exposure to synthetic chemicals with diabetes [reviewed in Ref. [26]]. Interestingly, increases in body weight have also been documented in domesticated, feral, and laboratory animals in industrialized countries [27]. These findings suggest that obesogenic agents in the environment may play an important role in promoting the accretion of fat mass beyond that induced by lifestyle factors alone.”

The above quote is from the recent article published by Regnier et al, 2013.  I’ll include the list of references used by the authors in detailing the EDC hypothesis as follows:

[colored_box color=”eg. blue”]

[21] P.F. Baillie-Hamilton, Chemical toxins: a hypothesis to explain the global obesity epidemic, J. Altern. Complement. Med. 8 (2002) 185–192.

[22] F. Grün, B. Blumberg, Environmental obesogens: organotins and endocrine disruption via nuclear receptor signaling, Endocrinology 147 (2006) S50–S55.

[23] E.E. Hatch, J.W. Nelson, R.W. Stahlhut, T.F. Webster, Association of endocrine disruptors and obesity: perspectives from epidemiological studies, Int. J. Androl.  33 (2010) 324–332.

[24] M. La Merrill, L.S. Birnbaum, Childhood obesity and environmental chemicals, Mt. Sinai J. Med. 78 (2011) 22–48.

[25] J.L. Tang-Péronard, H.R. Andersen, T.K. Jensen, B.L. Heitmann, Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and obesity development in humans: a review, Obes. Rev. 12 (2011) 622–636.

[26] B.A. Neel, R.M. Sargis, The paradox of progress: environmental disruption of metabolism and the diabetes epidemic, Diabetes 60 (2011) 1838–1848.

[27] Y.C. Klimentidis, T.M. Beasley, H.Y. Lin, G. Murati, G.E. Glass, M. Guyton, W. Newton, M. Jorgensen, S.B. Heymsfield, J. Kemnitz, L. Fairbanks, D.B. Allison, Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics, Proc. Biol. Sci. 278 (2011) 1626–1632.



 List of Obesogenic or Environmental Contaminants that Could Be Making You Fat:

  1. PCB’s or polychlorinated biphenyls – Have long been banned, but persist in the environment (wikipedia)
  2. Bisphenol A – It’s primarily used to make plastics.
  3. Indomethacin – a class of NSAID that’s used for conditions including arthritis or gout.
  4. Sildenafil – Yup, that’s right, Viagra.  In this case, not that type of “fat” that you’re expecting.  Not sure many men are aware that consuming Viagra could contribute to their risk of obesity.
  5. DES - diethylstilbestrol;
  6. Nicotine – prenatal nicotine exposure may predispose people to obesity (full text source)
  7. Phthalates – chemicals used in the manufacture of cosmetics and plastics.

Overall, there’s a dizzying array of chemicals listed in their article.  What’s more is that there are 100,000’s of chemicals that we know very little about in regards to their obesogenic effects.

What’s particularly worrisome is that while the study authors concede that the impact of individual chemicals alone on our obesity risk may be small for a chemical working on a single pathway, but it’s more likely that thousands of these chemicals are acting synergistically over several pathways to cause metabolic disease.



  1. Regnier SM, Sargis RM.  Adipocytes under Assault: Environmental Disruption of Adipose Physiology.  Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 Jun 1. pii: S0925-4439(13)00190-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2013.05.028. [Epub ahead of print]

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