According to the National Institutes of Health, 2 in 3 adults in the US are overweight or obese. People with BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight while obesity is indicated with the BMI higher than 30. We put on weight due to a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet, but many other factors play a role. Some of these factors are well-known, but others aren’t. For example, most of us aren’t aware that some toxic chemicals or endocrine disruptors can contribute to weight gain. How does this happen? Is this relationship real? Keep reading to find out.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are defined as chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system in our body and produce negative developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects. A multitude of substances, both manmade and natural, are considered endocrine disruptors including dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, pharmaceuticals, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, and plasticizers, and many others.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, these toxic chemicals are found in everyday products we use such as metal food cans, plastic bottles, flame retardants, detergents, toys, food, pesticides, cosmetics and other beauty products. Essentially, we are exposed to endocrine disruptors through consumption of food, water, ingestion of dust, inhalation of gases and other air particles, and through the skin.
Endocrine disruptors have multifaceted actions like:
- Blocking or interfering the way natural hormones and their receptors are produced or regulated
- Binding to a receptor within a cell and blocking the endogenous hormone from binding as well. As a result, the normal signal cannot be sent and the body doesn’t respond properly
- Partially or entirely mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body and causing an overstimulation
Endocrine disruptors and weight gain
While we are aware that some chemicals are harmful to our health, we almost correlate them with weight gain, but numerous studies have confirmed their relationship. The idea that toxic chemicals may contribute to weight gain can be attributed to an article written by Stirling University‘s Paula Baillie-Hamilton and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The article presented the evidence from previous toxicological studies which showed that low-dose exposure to chemicals is associated with weight gain. The problem was that, at that time, scientists didn’t focus on this relationship. Mission was accomplished here, thanks to the article researchers started investigating the impact of endocrine disruptors on weight gain.
For example, a study from the Environmental Researchfound that higher exposure to BPA is strongly associated with general and central obesity among adults in the US. This isn’t the only chemical that can make you put on a few pounds. Phthalates are shown to contribute to higher susceptibility to weight gain by affecting hormone receptors called PPARs which are involved in metabolism, according to a research published in the Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology.
BPA is a synthetic compound found in products such as baby bottles, plastic food and beverage containers, metal food cans. Phthalates are also chemicals found in food containers, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains, and paint.
One study found that atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides, damages mitochondria, thus decreasing metabolic rate and increasing abdominal obesity. On the other hand, a research from the Endocrinologydiscovered that tributyltin and other organotin compounds can function as endocrine disruptors and, thus, be a factor in obesity by enhancing the number of fat cells. Organotins are defined as a class of artificial chemicals that are used for industrial purposes.
Additionally, exposure to PFOAs (perfluorooctanoic acid) during development leads to higher insulin, leptin, and body weight in mid-life according to the research carried out by the US scientists. PFOAs are synthetic compounds found primarily in nonstick cookware made with Teflon and microwave popcorn.
Essential oils and weight loss
As you can see, the link between weight gain and endocrine disruptors is strong. Just as toxic compounds can lead to overweight, there are some natural compounds that can help you slim down. Essential oils are concentrated hydrophobic liquids containing aroma compounds from plants. You probably use them as a part of a relaxing aromatherapy, but they have many other purposes including weight loss. Below, you can see the most well-known essential oils that can help you lose a few pounds:
- Grapefruit oil – speeds up metabolism, acts as an appetite suppressant, dissolves fat, and prevents water retention. It can be taken through inhalation or you can put a few drops in a glass of water
- Ginger oil – contains gingerol, an organic compound with potent anti-inflammatory Ginger increases thermogenesis which accelerates metabolism. Add 1-2 drops of ginger essential oil to your favorite tea
- Bergamot oil – abundant in polyphenols found in green tea, bergamot oil helps boost metabolism by burning fats and sugar. Studies show that bergamot oil reduces stress, which is beneficial because many people overeat in order to combat stress that piles on. Inhale the oil or add a few drops to your bath
- Cinnamon oil – suppresses appetite by breaking down sugars into energy rather than fat. Add 1-2 drops to a glass of warm water with a little bit of honey
- Lemon oil – speeds up metabolism, improves digestion, and suppresses appetite. You can inhale the oil or add a few drops to a cotton ball and breathe in before the meal
A growing body of evidence confirms that various chemicals we come in contact with act as endocrine disruptors and contribute to weight gain. While we can’t avoid these chemicals entirely, we can still try to reduce the exposure. Also, using organic compounds such as essential oils can be of help to lose weight.