Tired of being on a diet with no results? Trying to eat healthy food, but still the same weight? Perhaps there is a completely different culprit: shampoo. As weird as it sounds a recent study by The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York has found that this is a factor to take under consideration. Doctors that participated in this project claimed that phthalates, chemical ingredients in 70 percent of cosmetics as well as many household cleaning products, can affect the body’s natural weight control system.
In the latest study, “Growing Up Healthy” researchers suggested that exposure to phthalates through daily use may be linked to childhood obesity and weight problems in adults.
The Mount Sinai team goal was to know the link between environment interactions and its influence to the diet, physical activity level, and subsequent risk for childhood obesity. Investigators measured exposure to phthalates by analyzing the urine of 330 girls living in the inner city area of East Harlem. According to Professor Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and the study author, “the heaviest girls have the highest levels of phthalates in their urine.”
In addition, Rochester University scientists, after analyzing the blood and urine of 1,451 men, found that those with the highest level of phthalates in their urine had more belly fat and insulin resistance. They also suggested that a depressed testosterone level due to chemicals was the underlying cause of their weight gain.
Another substance, Bisphenol A (BPA), also present in containers and bottles, has also been found to provide “chemical calories.” Known as endocrine disruptors, they affect the glands and hormones that regulate numerous bodily functions.
Zoe Harcombe, nutritionist and author of the Obesity Epidemic, said that even the minimum disruption to hormone levels is very bad news for someone trying to lose weight.
“In men, phthalates and other chemicals have an anti-testosterone capacity that has been linked to obesity,” Harcombe said. “In women they mess up our basic genetic hormone balance so that you get disruptions similar to those that might occur during the menopause or at puberty.”
Women on low-fat diets may get the worst of it, because they are the ones that could suffer the most from these chemical´s side-effects.
“By reducing the fat they consume, they also reduce the fat-soluble vitamins in their body. That often leaves them with dry skin,” Harcombe said. “They slather on moisturizers to rectify that problem without realizing they are unwittingly causing another by supplying chemical calories through the skin.”Many obesity doctors have accepted that the hormonal disruption caused by exposure to chemicals does play a part in weight problems.
Dr. Paula Baillie-Hamilton is the author of Stop the 21st Century Killing You and a researcher on human metabolism who has studied the connection between chemicals and obesity at the University of Stirling. Baillie-Hamilton is convinced the abundance of chemical calories in our lives is the reason why so many people are getting fatter despite dieting and exercising more.
How can people avoid these undesirable chemical calories? Regarding this issue, Landrigan said in the study that people could reduce exposure by checking labels for phthalates and Bisphenol A.
“Eating as much organic food as you can will reduce your chemical intake, but choosing cosmetics and toiletries carefully is also very important,” Landrigan said.
Eating fresh vegetables and working out every day seems to be the best recipe for avoiding the problem of endocrine disruptors and obesity. Pediatrician Maida Galvez, who was also involved in the Mount Sinai “Growing Up Healthy” study, recommended that parents have to stay clear of Bisphenol A, present in many plastic water and baby bottles, and in microwavable and dishwasher-safe food containers. She also recommended eating fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of foods that are processed or packaged in plastic.
Chemical calorie disruption was not a worthy topic for the science community a decade ago. There is still a long way to go in this new medical field. Jeanett Tang-Peronard, of the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, said that only a few of the tens of thousands of known environmental chemicals have been tested for their association with obesity, in her article in Obesity Reviews.
“We are only scratching the surface,” she said.