I recently was interviewed by Robin Nielsen, Chief Health Officer for Insulite Health, on the topic of how environmental chemicals affect our hormones and cause us to gain weight. Insulite Health provides a support community for women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). The prevalence of PCOS is up to 10% in women ages 12 – 45 years and occurs in post menopausal women as well. Many women have PCOS and have never been diagnosed. Certain chemicals have been linked to the hormone imbalances that occur in PCOS. Listen to the interview here: https://www.pcos.com/pcos-inspiration-hour-recordings/
Chemicals that impact the secretion and metabolism of our hormones responsible for regulation of our internal environment, reproduction and development are called endocrine disruptors. Obesogens fall into this class, and specifically disrupt our hormones related to appetite, satiety and metabolism. I will use these terms interchangeably in this article. As I was reviewing the research on these obesogens/endocrine disruptors, it became very apparent to me that we need to pay a lot more attention to how these chemicals are affecting our well being.
Research to date suggests different obesogenic compounds may have different mechanisms of action, some affecting the number of fat cells, others the size of fat cells, and still others the hormones that affect appetite, how full you feel, food preferences, and energy metabolism. And these effects can be passed down through generations. (1)
Where are these obesogens/endocrine disruptors found? Unfortunately, they are found just about everywhere. The list is long and some of the chemicals persist in the environment for decades, long after they are banned! DDT was banned in the US decades ago, but has a half life of 20 to 30 years, so it still persists in our environment today. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are found in dairy, fish, and meats and were also banned in the US decades ago. Obesogens are also found in solvents (i.e. grease cleaners and paints), pesticides found in foods, parabens found in personal care products like shampoos and lotions, and BPA (bisphenol A) found in plastic bottles, thermal receipts, the lining of most food cans and medical devices.
As I was sifting through the research, I was particularly fascinated by the impact of BPA (bisphenol A) as an obesogen. Animal studies show that “BPA reduces the number of fat cells but programs them to incorporate more fat, so there are fewer but very large fat cells.” (2) And women with PCOS have been found to have higher levels of BPA, which means they are not properly detoxifying BPA. (3) BPA is a big one…how do we decrease our exposure and get it out of our bodies??
Practical recommendations to decrease your exposure to BPA and get it out of your body:
1. Get a good sweat on for at least 15 minutes three times a week. Sweat helps you excrete BPA! So dance, exercise, take a sauna…whatever gets you to sweat!! (4)
2. Avoid touching receipts after using hand sanitizers, lotions, or creams. BPA is found in receipts. Using a hand sanitizer before touching a receipt was found to increase absorption of BPA by 100 fold. (5)
3. Eat less processed foods and more whole foods. A study found that families who ate a fresh food diet (organic meals with no canned food and minimal plastic packaging) for three days and stored their food in glass and stainless steel containers decreased the average level of BPA in their urine by over 60%. When these families returned to their conventional diets, their BPA levels went back up to pre-intervention levels. (6) Just three days on a whole foods diet impacted levels of BPA!!
4. Eat probiotic rich foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir. An animal study found that two common probiotic stains, bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casie, helped the body detoxify by reducing the absorption of BPA by facilitating increased excretion of BPA in the feces. (7) So in other words, probiotics helped poop out the BPA!
5. Avoid drinking out of plastic water bottles. Use glass or stainless steel bottles instead. Also avoid storing food or microwaving in plastic containers.
7. ] Kenji Oishi, Tadashi Sato, Wakae Yokoi, Yasuto Yoshida, Masahiko Ito, Haruji Sawada. Effect of probiotics, Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei, on bisphenol A exposure in rats. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2008 Jun;72(6):1409-15. Epub 2008 Jun 7. PMID: 18540113