Everyday chemicals that can be adding to weight gain

“It’s not that we have to live in a bubble, as we have a liver, lungs, kidneys, a gut, and other detox related organs for a reason, but we carry around a lot and this is not the cleanest world- let’s just lessen what our body has to get rid of so it can focus on optimal health.”
-Dr. Serena Goldstein, ND

I find myself saying this a lot both to myself and others (when the topic arises) so let’s just put it out there- it’s not you it’s the world. It’s the compounding effect that our ozone layer is not what it used to be, and that we have so many chemicals found in our everyday life that it’s also really easy to want to live in a bubble, with everything natural, away from whatever is icky and gross. Since this is not the most likely scenario, the good news is that our body is equipped with many mechanisms that break down and get rid of toxins.

We breathe in oxygen, and structures in the lung make it so we breathe out carbon dioxide- too much of either is not good. The heart and lung work together to bring oxygen rich blood to the rest of the body, and then oxygen poor blood gets circled back to get re-oxygenated again. The liver has over 500 functions, the only internal organ that can regenerate itself (skin being the outside), and has processes that make it easy to excrete toxins and additional hormones, to name a few. Our gut binds up whatever is not serving our body, so we can get rid of it when we go to the bathroom, just like our kidneys act as another filter. In other words, we have a lot of backup systems to help us metabolize what’s not serving our body from the external world, and any waste products we’ve produced internally (i.e. think lactic acid buildup from sore muscles).

However, concerns arise when this gets to be ‘too much’, and that can look different for everyone. Common issues include inability to lose weight or weight gain, thyroid issues, fatigue, insomnia, irritability - I know, super specific right?? Kidding.. but it does bring up a point that shifting a few things in our lifestyle can make a major impact. In fact, there’s a new term- ‘exposome’ - that the environment we live in is more important than our blueprint of genetics. How we live our life is about 90% determinant of our health outcome outside of our genetics, but also our life is much more than what’s around us (e.g. food, emotions, lifestyle).

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The problem with many chemicals is that they can get stored in fat cells and other organs where functions can be altered and/or hindered. Our fat cells both receive and send off at least 10 different signals, around factors like size, hunger levels, hormone levels (i.e. high estrogen, low testosterone), food cravings, and overall inflammation. For example, when we lose weight toxins get released- why bowel movements and drinking lots of water is super important so they don’t recirculate. We’ve probably heard of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which disrupt how testosterone, estrogen (predominantly affected), progesterone, and cortisol (our stress hormone) function, and there’s also a similar class (they can overlap) called obesogens, which interferes with our metabolism.

There are thousands of chemicals in the environment, some which are unavoidable, yet fortunately there are many that we can avoid. While our body can handle quite a bit, when general concerns arise (even ‘just not feeling good’) it’s our body’s way of asking if we can adjust a few things. Here are the top ones to clear out of your lifestyle to decrease body burden to help balance hormones, lose weight, and improve your energy:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA), BPF, & BPS- This one is very common as it’s found in plasticizers, used to increase flexibility in a product, and have been shown to interfere with estrogen and thyroid signaling, as well as mimic estrogen’s effects (can turn testosterone into estrogen)- this combination can lead to weight gain, infertility, mood issues, insomnia, etc. In balance estrogen can help us lose weight and lessen cravings/improve blood sugar markers, the problem is when it’s out of balance. Further, just because something says BPA free, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the ‘F’ or ‘S’ version- so best to avoid plastics where you can altogether. They’re typically found in containers, bottles, store receipts, and food packaging. Consider switching to glass yet even though something may be BPA free, doesn’t mean it won’t have BPS or BPF.

  • Phthalates- Another common EDC and obesogen used to soften plastic and vinyl, commonly found in cosmetics, plastic containers, fragrances, plastics, personal care products, and packaged food and drinks. They can also be inhaled. They have been linked to low sperm count, poor metabolism, mood issues, etc. Getting rid of these usually also gets rid of Parabens, another type of EDC found in every day products.

  • BHT & BHA- Used to keep cereals, and other foods fresh by stopping oils from going rancid. They are also known EDCs and carcinogens (cancer causing), commonly found in jet fuel, cosmetics, rubber petroleum products, and embalming fluid.

We know there’s a lot more out there. When replacing products at home, generally go with what doesn’t sound like it popped out of a chemistry lab, and if there’s a few of those words, make sure it’s the last few ingredients (ingredients are labels most to least exposure). It’s impossible to avoid everything, as we are exposed all the time, and to varying degrees (i.e. living in an urban city versus rural countryside), but we can do a lot to reduce our exposure and over time increase the quality of our health. You can also help your organ out especially by consuming cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, which have a sulfur compound that helps with liver detoxification, and fiber that promotes healthy bowel movements & good gut bacteria to bind up chemicals. Add in some dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards for a plethora of vitamins and minerals to ensure these toxins are getting metabolized and excreted out. Aim for at least 2 cups per day. In fact, you can learn more here at the environmental working group. What 3 items have you replaced?