We can’t see them, but exposure to environmental toxins is making us obese, diabetic, infertile, and contributing to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. They are also contributing to many types of cancer. As Dr. Elissa Epel said at the recent 12th annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium in San Francisco, CA, our mind is not equipped to handle the threat of invisible toxins and their ongoing long term consequences. As humans, we tend to react with fear, despair, or hopelessness or denial and apathy. But we need to find a middle ground: engagement and cautious optimism.
Why? Because according to Tracy Woodruff, PhD, Director of the UCSF Environmental Health Initiative, in 2016 alone, 30,000 lbs. of chemicals per person were produced in the U.S. And very sadly, there is virtually no safety data on the long-term effects of these manufactured chemicals.
What are these chemicals doing to us? Bruce Blumberg, PhD, UC Irvine Professor of Developmental and Cell Biology and leader in the field of “obesogens,” has identified 50 chemical obesogens. What are obesogens? They are chemicals that stimulate fat storage and alter control of appetite, feelings of fullness, and metabolism; leading to weight gain and obesity.
The most common sources of obesogens are parabens, PCBs, phthalates, pesticides, and certain prescription drugs (anti diabetic drugs like Actos and Avandia and atypical antipsychotics). Please refer to my previous blog post for the most common everyday sources of these chemicals.
Michele La Merrill, PhD recently conducted a mice study to determine if DDT (banned in 1972 in the U.S.) and DDE (a metabolite of DDT still found in our bodies!) affected calorie burning. In this mice study, which she presented at the 12th annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium, only 20% of calories were burned by exercise. The rest of the calories burned were to keep the mice alive and support normal metabolic functions. The study found that DDT and DDE decreases calories burned in mice. The take home message: You may be eating a pretty healthy diet and exercising regularly, but still gain weight or can’t lose weight because you are burdened with chemicals that are decreasing your daily calorie burning expenditure.
When it comes to infertility and the health of a baby in utero, chemicals are also a great concern. BPA has been found to be harmful to the female reproductive system at low doses. And prenatal obesogen exposure reprograms exposed babies to be fat. These babies are born to battle weight their entire lives!
And let’s not leave men out of this picture. Phthalates have been found to negatively affect testosterone production.
Being a SF Bay area resident, I have written about what we can do to protect ourselves from the air pollution caused by wild fires. In the SF Bay area, the biggest causes of air pollution are traffic exhaust and wildfires. Air pollution from wild fires is now a common occurrence for most people living in the Western part of the U.S. Air pollution is also a big problem for people living close to conventional farms, refineries and coal mines.
And yes, air pollution greatly affects your lungs. But because it induces oxidative stress and inflammation, air pollution is not just confined to the lungs! Systemic inflammation can negatively impact any part or system of your body. A lot of research is being done in Fresno, CA on the effects of air pollution, since Fresno is one of the most polluted cities in the U.S. thanks to massive spraying of pesticides, herbicides, etc.)
An ongoing study in Fresno found that a seven year old kid already had elevated blood pressure due to exposure to agricultural spraying. And there is a higher incidence of Parkinson’s Disease among farmers who used toxic chemicals like DDT (before it was banned).
And if you read my blogs, you know that I have studied with Dr. Dale Bredesen and follow his work. He has now acknowledged that dementogens are a bigger concern than previously thought. These dementogens are simply organic chemicals, metallotoxins (heavy metals) and biotoxins (i.e. candida, mold, spirochetes) that cause dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders.
This “toxic type” neurodegeneration is primarily occurring in women in their late 40s to mid 50s. Why? Because menopausal women experience the osteoclastic burst (their bones start to break down because their estrogen levels greatly decrease). And many chemicals do get stored in bone (especially lead).
What can we do now? How can we exercise engagement and cautious optimism?
First, decrease exposure!
Buy organic produce whenever possible. Switch out personal care products loaded with chemicals to safer alternatives. Use cleaning supplies that do not harm the environment or yourself!
Secondly, get involved with cleaning up our environment in our communities and at local levels. Support the organizations that are advocating to protect us from unsafe chemicals and providing education on how to reduce chemical exposure.
Some helpful resources and organizations that are advocates for our wellness:
The Environmental Working Group ewg.org has excellent consumer guides to help you choose safe personal care products, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. EWG also has a new EWG verified program!
The Honest Company provides a variety of products for the family made with eco-friendly materials.
Sierra Club: the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization
thinkdirty.com Empowering ingredient-conscious consumers to choose the safest beauty + personal products!
Ambiciti: first mobile app for street level air pollution and noise pollution! Choose a less polluted or quieter route.