6 Nasty Chemicals that Could Cause Weight Gain

by Mike Roussell, SHAPE Diet Doctor, phD

These six chemicals may be causing weight gainThese six chemicals may be causing weight gainWith obesity rates continuing to climb year after year without epic changes in the amount of calories we are eating, many wonder what else could be a contributing to this growing epidemic. Sedentary lifestyle? Definitely. Environmental toxins? Possibly. Unfortunately the world we live in is chock-full of chemicals and compounds that can negatively impact our hormones. These six in particular could be helping to pad your waistline and while you may not be able to completely avoid them, there are easy ways to limit your contact.

1. Atrazine: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. It's commonly used on corn, sugarcane, sorghum, and in some areas on grass lawns. Atrazine disrupts normal cellular mitochondrial function and has been shown to cause insulin resistance in animals. The EPA last thoroughly examined the health effects of atrazine in 2003, deeming it safe, but since that time 150 new studies have been published, in addition to documentation about the presence of atrazine in drinking water, prompting the agency to actively monitor our water supply. You can minimize your exposure to atrazine by buying organic produce, particularly corn.

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2. Bisphenol-A (BPA): Traditionally used worldwide in plastics used for food and drink storage, BPA has long been known to mimic estrogen and has been associated with impaired reproductive function, but it's also an obesogen. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that BPA is responsible for starting a biochemical cascade within fat cells that increases inflammation and promotes fat-cell growth. Anytime you purchase canned goods or food in plastic containers (including bottled water), be sure the product is labeled as "BPA free."

3. Mercury: Another reason to avoid high-fructose corn syrup (as if you need one): The processing used to make this sweetener leaves small amounts of mercury in the syrup. That may seem inconsequential, but at the rate Americans consume high fructose corn syrup, the added mercury could be a problem. Even if you eliminate HFCS from your diet, canned tuna-a staple in many healthy lunches-can also contain mercury. As long as you stick to no more than three cans of tuna a week, you should be fine. It's also a good idea to avoid chunk white tuna, which has more than double the mercury of chunk light tuna.

4. Triclosan: Hand sanitizers, soaps, and toothpastes often add triclosan for its antibacterial properties. However, animal studies have shown that this chemical negatively impacts thyroid function. The FDA is currently reviewing all available safety and effectiveness data on triclosan, including information concerning bacterial resistance and endocrine disruption. For now, the FDA considers the chemical safe, but further research needs to be done to determine if and at what dosage triclosan decreases thyroid hormone levels in humans. If you would rather take action now, check the labels of your hand sanitizer, soaps, and toothpaste to be sure triclosan isn't listed.

5. Phthalates:
These chemicals are added to plastics to in order to improve their durability, flexibility, and transparency and are also found in pacifiers, children's toys, and personal care products such as soap, shampoo, hair spray, and nail polish. Korean researchers found higher levels of phthalates in obese children than in healthy-weight kids, with those levels correlating to both BMI and body mass. Scientists at the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York found a similar relationship between phthalate levels and weight in young girls. In addition to buying phthalate-free baby products and toys (Evenflo, Gerber, and Lego have all said they will stop using phthalates), you can search the Environmental Working Group's database to check if your bath and beauty products contain any toxins.

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6. Tributyltin: While tributyltin is used in an anti-fungal compound on food crops, its primary use is in paints and stains used on boats where it serves to prevent bacterial growth. Animal studies have shown that exposure to this chemical can accelerate the growth of fat cells in newborns. Unfortunately, tributyltin has been found in household dust, making our exposure to it more widespread than initially thought.

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