The REAL Cause of the Global Obesity Epidemic

World Wide Obesity Epidemic

Some 68% of all Americans are overweight, and obesity has almost doubled in the last couple of decades worldwide. As International Business Tribune reports:

Studies conducted jointly by researchers at Imperial College London and Harvard University, published in the medical journal The Lancet, show that obesity worldwide almost doubled in the decades between 1980 and 2008.

***

68 per cent of Americans were found to be overweight while close to 34 percent were obese.

Sure, people are eating too much and exercising too little (this post is not meant as an excuse for lack of discipline and poor choices). The processed foods and refined flours and sugars don’t help. And additives like high fructose corn syrup – which are added to many processed foods – are stuffing us with empty calories.

But given that there is an epidemic of obesity even in 6 month old infants (see below), there is clearly something else going on as well.

Are Toxic Chemicals Making Us Fat?

The toxins all around us might be making us fat.

As the Washington Post reported in 2007:

Several recent animal studies suggest that environmental exposure to widely used chemicals may also help make people fat.

The evidence is preliminary, but a number of researchers are pursuing indications that the chemicals, which have been shown to cause abnormal changes in animals’ sexual development, can also trigger fat-cell activity — a process scientists call adipogenesis.

The chemicals under scrutiny are used in products from marine paints and pesticides to food and beverage containers. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found one chemical, bisphenol A, in 95 percent of the people tested, at levels at or above those that affected development in animals.

These findings were presented at last month’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A spokesman for the chemical industry later dismissed the concerns, but Jerry Heindel, a top official of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), who chaired the AAAS session, said the suspected link between obesity and exposure to “endocrine disrupters,” as the chemicals are called because of their hormone-like effects, is “plausible and possible.”

Bruce Blumberg, a developmental and cell biologist at the University of California at Irvine, one of those presenting research at the meeting, called them “obesogens” — chemicals that promote obesity.

***

Exposed mice became obese adults and remained obese even on reduced calorie and increased exercise regimes. Like tributyltin, DES [which for decades was added to animal feed and routinely given to pregnant women] appeared to permanently disrupt the hormonal mechanisms regulating body weight.

“Once these genetic changes happen in utero, they are irreversible and with the individual for life,” Newbold said.

***

“Exposure to bisphenol A is continuous,” said Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Bisphenol A is an ingredient in polycarbonate plastics used in many products, including refillable water containers and baby bottles, and in epoxy resins that line the inside of food cans and are used as dental sealants. [It is also added to store receipts.] In 2003, U.S. industry consumed about 2 billion pounds of bisphenol A.

Researchers have studied bisphenol A’s effects on estrogen function for more than a decade. Vom Saal’s research indicates that developmental exposure to low doses of bisphenol A activates genetic mechanisms that promote fat-cell activity. “These in-utero effects are lifetime effects, and they occur at phenomenally small levels” of exposure, vom Saal said.

***

Research into the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on obesity has been done only in laboratory animals, but the genetic receptors that control fat cell activity are functionally identical across species. “They work virtually the same way in fish as they do in rodents and humans,” Blumberg said. “Fat cells are an endocrine organ.”

Ongoing studies are monitoring human levels of bisphenol A, but none have been done of tributyltin, which has been used since the 1960s and is persistent in the marine food web. “Tributyltin is the only endocrine disrupting chemical that has been shown without substantial argument to have an effect at levels at which it’s found in the environment,” Blumberg said.

Concern over tributyltin’s reproductive effects on marine animals has resulted in an international agreement discontinuing its use in anti-fouling paints used on ships. The EPA has said it plans next year to assess its other applications, including as an antimicrobial agent in livestock operations, fish hatcheries and hospitals.

Bisphenol A is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in consumer products, and the agency says the amount of bisphenol A or tributyltin that might leach from products is too low to be of concern. But the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, is reviewing bisphenol A, and concerns about its estrogenic effects prompted California legislators to propose banning it from certain products sold in-state, a move industry has fought vigorously.

Similarly, the Daily Beast noted in 2010:

[Bad habits] cannot explain the ballooning of one particular segment of the population, a segment that doesn’t go to movies, can’t chew, and was never that much into exercise: babies. In 2006 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the prevalence of obesity in infants under 6 months had risen 73 percent since 1980. “This epidemic of obese 6-month-olds,” as endocrinologist Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, calls it, poses a problem for conventional explanations of the fattening of America. “Since they’re eating only formula or breast milk, and never exactly got a lot of exercise, the obvious explanations for obesity don’t work for babies,” he points out. “You have to look beyond the obvious.”

The search for the non-obvious has led to a familiar villain: early-life exposure to traces of chemicals in the environment. Evidence has been steadily accumulating that certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain, have two previously unsuspected effects. They act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells into fat cells, which stay with you for life. And they may alter metabolic rate, so that the body hoards calories rather than burning them, like a physiological Scrooge. “The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity,” says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.” They are not the cause of extra pounds in every person who is overweight—for older adults, who were less likely to be exposed to so many of the compounds before birth, the standard explanations of genetics and lifestyle probably suffice—but environmental chemicals may well account for a good part of the current epidemic, especially in those under 50. And at the individual level, exposure to the compounds during a critical period of development may explain one of the most frustrating aspects of weight gain: you eat no more than your slim friends, and exercise no less, yet are still unable to shed pounds.

***

Newbold gave low doses (equivalent to what people are exposed to in the environment) of hormone-mimicking compounds to newborn mice. In six months, the mice were 20 percent heavier and had 36 percent more body fat than unexposed mice. Strangely, these results seemed to contradict the first law of thermodynamics, which implies that weight gain equals calories consumed minus calories burned. “What was so odd was that the overweight mice were not eating more or moving less than the normal mice,” Newbold says. “We measured that very carefully, and there was no statistical difference.”

***

`Programming the fetus to make more fat cells leaves an enduring physiological legacy. “The more [fat cells], the fatter you are,” says UCSF’s Lustig. But [fat cells] are more than passive storage sites. They also fine-tune appetite, producing hormones that act on the brain to make us feel hungry or sated. With more [fat cells], an animal is doubly cursed: it is hungrier more often, and the extra food it eats has more places to go—and remain.

***

In 2005 scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. And last January scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels. Neither study proves causation, but they “support the findings in experimental animals,” says Newbold. They “show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals … and the development of obesity.” [See this for more information on the potential link between pesticides and obesity.]

***

This fall, scientists from NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and academia will discuss obesogens at the largest-ever government-sponsored meeting on the topic. “The main message is that obesogens are a factor that we hadn’t thought about at all before this,” says Blumberg. But they’re one that could clear up at least some of the mystery of why so many of us put on pounds that refuse to come off.

Consumption of the widely used food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked to obesity.

Pthalates – commonly used in many plastics – have been linked to obesity. See this and this.  So has a chemical used to make Teflon, stain-resistant carpets and other products.

Most of the meat we eat these days contains estrogen, antibiotics and  powerful chemicals which change hormone levels. Modern corn-fed beef also contains much higher levels of saturated fat than grass-fed beef. So the meat we are eating is also making us fat.

Arsenic may also be linked with obesity, via it’s effect on the thyroid gland. Arsenic is often fed to chickens and pigs to fatten them up, and we end up ingesting it on our dinner plate. It’s ending up in other foods as well.

A lot of endocrine-disrupting pharmaceuticals and medications are also ending up in tap water.

Moreover, the National Research Council has found:

The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.

Some hypothesize that too much fluoride affects the thyroid gland, which may in turn lead to weight gain.

Antibiotics also used to be handed out like candy by doctors.  However, ingesting too many antibiotics has also been linked to obesity, as it kills helpful intestinal bacteria. See this and this.

Moreover, many crops in the U.S. are now genetically modified.  For example, 93 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered, as are:

Some allege that Roundup kills healthy gut bacteria, and that genetically modified crops cause other health problems.

And Cornell University’s newspaper – the Cornell Sun – reports that our  intestinal bacteria also substantially affect our ability to eliminate toxins instead of letting them make us fat:

Cornell scientists researching the effects of environmental toxins to the onset of obesity and Type II Diabetes, discovered that—unlike other factors such as eating too many unhealthy foods—the extent of damage caused by pollutants depends not on what a person puts into her mouth, but on what is already living within her gut.

Prof. Suzanne Snedeker, food science, and Prof. Anthony Hay, microbiology, researched the contribution that microorganisms in the gut and environmental toxins known as “obesogens” have on ever rising obesity levels. Their work, which was published last October in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, reported a link between composition of gut microbiota, exposure to environmental chemicals and the development of obesity and diabetes. The review, “Do Interactions Between Gut Ecology and Environmental Chemicals Contribute to Obesity and Diabetes?”  combined three main ideas: predisposed gut microbe composition can increase an individual’s risk of obesity and Type II Diabetes, gut microbe activity can determine an individual’s metabolic reaction to persistent pollutants such as DDT and PCB and certain pharmaceuticals can also be metabolized differently depending on the community of microbes in the gut.

The microbe community influences many metabolic pathways within the gut, Snedeker said.  Our bodies metabolize chemicals, but how they are metabolized, and how much fat is stored, depends on gut ecology. Microbes are responsible not only for collecting usable energy from digested food, but also for monitoring insulin levels, storage of fat and appetite. Gut microbes also play an integral role in dealing with any chemicals that enter the body. According to Snedeker, differences in gut microbiota can cause drugs like acetaminophen to act as a toxin in some people while providing no problems for others.  While pharmaceutical and microbe interactions are well understood, there is little information in the area of microbe response to environmental toxins.

She said, there are more than three dozen chemicals called obesogenic compounds, that can cause weight gain by altering the body’s normal metabolic responses and lipid production.

“It seems probable that gut microbes are affecting how our bodies handle these environmental chemicals,” Snedeker said. According to Snedeker, enzymes that are influenced by interactions of gut microbes break down approximately two-thirds of the known environmental toxins. Therefore, differences in the gut microbe community strongly affect our bodies’ ability to get rid of environmental pollutants. Obesogens can alter normal metabolic behavior by changing the levels of fat that our bodies store. Snedeker and Hay suggested that the microbes in the gut of humans determine the way in which these chemicals are metabolized and thus could contribute to obesity.

Snedeker and Hay concluded that although high levels of obesogenic chemicals are bound to cause some kind of disruption in the gut microbe community responsible for breaking these chemicals down, the degree of the disturbance is dependent upon gut microbial composition. In other words, the amount of weight an individual is likely to gain when exposed to environmental toxins, or her risk of acquiring Type II Diabetes, could depend on the microorganism community in their gut.

No, Everything Won‘t Kill You

In response to information about toxic chemicals in our food, water and air, many people change the subject by saying “well, everything will kill you”. In other words, they try to change the topic by assuming that we would have to go back to the stone age to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals.

But this is missing the point entirely. In fact, companies add nasty chemicals to their products and use fattening food-producing strategies to cut corners and make more money.

In the same way that the financial crisis, BP oil spill and Fukushima nuclear disaster were caused by fraud and greed, we are daily exposed to obesity-causing chemicals because companies make an extra buck by lying about what is in their product, cutting every corner in the book, and escaping any consequences for their health-damaging actions.

In fattening their bottom line, the fat cats are creating an epidemic of obesity for the little guy.

What Can We Do To Fight Back?

Eating grass-fed meat instead of industrially-produced corn fed beef will reduce your exposure to obesity-causing chemicals.

Use glass instead of plastic whenever you can, to reduce exposure to pthalates and other hormone-altering plastics.

Try to avoid canned food, or at least look for cans that are free of bisphenol A.  (For example, the Eden company sells food in bpa-free cans.)  Buy and store food in glass jars whenever possible.   And wash your hands after handling store receipts (they still contain bpa).

Eat yogurt or other food containing good bacteria to help restore your healthy intestinal flora.   If you don’t like yogurt, you can take “probiotic” (i.e. good bacteria) supplements from your local health food store.

And don’t forget to tell your grocery store that you demand real food that doesn’t contain bpa, pthalates, hormones, antibiotics or other junk.  If we vote with our pocketbooks, the big food companies will get the message.

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  • kim

    in ‘wheat belly’, dr davis provides convincing evidence that monsanto’s engineered wheat is the root cause of our epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

    http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/
    here’s a snip from his blog:

    What food is known to be broken down into opiate-like polypeptides?

    Wheat. On digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, wheat gluten is broken down into a collection of polypeptides that are released into the bloodstream. These gluten-derived polypeptides are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. Their binding to brain cells can be blocked by naloxone or naltrexone administration. These polypeptides have been named exorphins, since they exert morphine-like activity on the brain. While you may not be “high,” many people experience a subtle reward, a low-grade pleasure or euphoria.

    For the same reasons, 30% of people who stop consuming wheat experience withdrawal, i.e., sadness, mental fog, and fatigue.

    Wouldn’t you know that the pharmaceutical industry would eventually catch on? Drug company startup, Orexigen, will be making FDA application for its drug, Contrave, a combination of naltrexone and the antidepressant, buproprion. It is billed as a blocker of the “mesolimbic reward system” that enhances weight loss.

    Step back a moment and think about this: We are urged by the USDA and other “official” sources of nutritional advice to eat more “healthy whole grains.” Such advice creates a nation of obese Americans, many the unwitting victims of the new generation of exorphin-generating, high-yield dwarf mutant wheat. A desperate, obese public now turns to the drug industry to provide drugs that can turn off the addictive behavior of the USDA-endorsed food.

    There is no question that wheat has addictive properties. You will soon be able to take a drug to block its effects. That way, the food industry profits, the drug industry profits, and you pay for it all.

  • karen

    I was going to suggest you read “Wheat Belly” as well. It’s the wheat we’re being told to eat LOTS of that is making a lot of people fat. Drop the wheat and you drop the weight.

  • gozounlimited

    One very small part of our bodies, found in every one of our cells, has a special need for nightly cleaning and maintenance: these are the engines that drive every cell, our mitochondria. These bacteria-like organelles (organ-like cell parts) perform the final stage of “burning” raw material such as sugars (etc), in order to produce our real fuel: ATP, (adenosine triphosphate). It should be noted that mitochondrial dysfunction (and even death) is a very plausible consequence of insufficient darkness. When mitochondria are asked to keep going at daytime rates for longer than twelve or thirteen hours without garbage collection and repair and then subjected to shortened nights with less melatonin available over a shorter time, ongoing damage to our mitochondria from free radicals becomes more and more likely. “Free radicals” are the waste products that occasionally form during the chemical reactions mitochondria perform to make and activate ATP. They can combine actively with other molecules and introduce random changes – not the sorts of things one wants hanging around the delicate cellular machinery. As well, other dangerous “reductive oxygen species” formed during daytime by exposure to ultraviolet light, inhaled particles from vehicle exhaust, etc, need to be cleaned up, and melatonin is natures first line of defense here too. All these dangerous reactive molecules pose a general threat to cells, collagen, and mitochondria, and the damage from them easily accumulates over time. It should be no surprise then, that

    “alterations in oxidative phosphorylation [mitochondrial function] are characteristic of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson disease, Huntington disease, and other diseases.”
    Read More …..http://photoperiodeffect.com/photoperiod_diabetes_hypertension/mighty_mitochondria_and_diabetes.html

    Chemicals from chemtrails and positive ions produced by them destroys our bodies ability to produce ATP …. thus producing disease, obesity, and eventually dead.

    For all of you who denied the existence of Chemtrails and claimed it was all conspiracy theory well, what do you have to say NOW? Over the past decade, independent testing of Chemtrails has shown a dangerous, extremely poisonous brew… (see video) http://www.care2.com/news/member/175920729/1871077

  • http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/ Dredd

    An interesting development in microbiology links obesity with a person’s microbiome (see, The Human Microbiome Congress, and Gut Microbes Linked to Obesity-Causing Toxins).

    • gozounlimited

      How could something that seems so obvious be so obscure…why kids eat dirt.
      So many assaults on the gut and immune system:

      Study shows disadvantages of GM foods to human health

      “British scientific researchers demonstrated that genetically modified DNA from crops can find its way into human gut bacteria, raising possible health concerns. This is because antibiotic-resistant marker genes are inserted with GM material, which could cause a person to be resistant to antibiotic medicines.”
      read more: http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/millenium/disadvantagesgmfoodhealth.php

      What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

      “Leaky gut syndrome results from damaging the cells of the small intestine so that the spaces between them become larger and allow incompletely digested food molecules and ‘waste’ particles to pass through. Many things can damage these cells, causing or aggravating leaky gut syndrome. ”
      read more: http://www.stopleakygut.com/causes

  • gozounlimited

    Also have you noticed the increasing number of people around the world just dropping dead? What happens when you stop producing ATP. Just keel over … same is true for animals and plants. The earth is in forced extinction. … will be until GOD steps in and kicks ass! Sit back and watch!!!!!

  • tal

    Monsanto’s GE wheat never came to market so it can hardly be a culpret in Dr Davis’ hypothesis. Moreover, why would Dr Davis apply test results, from a subset of sick people, to the entire population? Most people do not have peanut allergy but, for those who do, peanut can be deadly. It doesn’t follow that all people need to shun peanuts or that peanuts are toxic.

    Humans have eaten wheat for millenia and there has long been a tiny subset of people for whom it was toxic. Known as celiac today, it was formerly called sprue. Wheat allergy and intolerance has grown markedly in the last few decades, the same decades that also saw the comsumption of fructose grow astronomically. See:
    Loss of intestinal Serotonin reuptake transporter (SERT) is a critical factor in fructose-induced impairment of intestinal barrier function and subsequently the development of steatosis.

    and other fructose-related studies here:
    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/toxic-ingredient/fructose?page=1

    Once you have lost your intestinal barrier function, any/all of your food may become toxic for you because molecules that were never meant to croos that barrier can now do so.

    Dredd has posted a link to the microbiome that I believe holds the key to many of our current ills.

  • Simon

    Some good suggestions but please let’s be honest. Most people stuff their pie holes with junk food and avoid daily exercise. If everyone consumed whole foods and exercised vigorously at least five days/week obesity wouldn’t be an epidemic.

  • firefly1945

    No wheat diet….no wheat bread.. no processed meat with nitrates. Eat only free range eggs, chicken, and unprocessed beef must be eaten sparingly like once a month only due to mad cow disease contamination since 1991 when Howard Lyman exposed it on Oprah. The poerful beef industry sued Oprah in a well publicized case tried in Texas or OK. Oprah won because Howard Lyman a Mt rancher was telling the truth. His sister died of mad Cow disease. US FDA until this moment is not doing a through job of inspecting beef for mad cow disease or Creutsfeld Jacob (CJ) disease in UK, which takes 15-20 years to show up in your brain. Mad cow disease and CJ once it is diagnosed is fatal and incurable.

  • JSinSD

    There have been several studies in the past few years that indicate that women that consume unhealthy diets during pregnancy cause genes to be expressed in their newborns that make them (the newborns) more susceptible to storing larger amounts of fat, leading to fatness and obesity.
    If environmental factors were causing the increase in fatness, I would it expect babies of thin mothers as well as those of fat mothers to have an increased susceptibility towards fatness. If instead the cause is unhealthy eating habits by pregnant women, then I would expect mainly babies of fat mothers to have an increased susceptibility towards fatness. I suspect a large majority of the fat newborns have fat mothers whose unhealthy lifestyles during pregnancy have doomed their children to a lifetime of fatness.

  • Robert Rainer MD

    Learn how to lose weight. Read, “A Doctor’s Guide to Wealth” by Robert Rainer, MD available on amazon.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jacob-Hughes/100002109066643 Jacob Hughes

    Outstanding write-up.

  • Moomil

    i want more information about obesity please help me and mail me article at this problems myp6776@gmail.com or and others ID here is questyou@yahoo.com ram_zan2@hotmail.com Thanks to help me…..

  • John Wilson

    You aren’t going to solve a social problem with biology.

  • ptyrrell

    Its the sugar!!!

    If you want the truth of what happens to your body, cut out the sugar completely for two weeks, and lose 2kgs. Eat as much fat as you want, just cut out the sugar, and cut out the white flour and the potatoes.

    You will lose weight.

    Sugary drinks including fruit juice is a primary cause of obesity.

    These chemicals may or may not have an affect, but they are a complete red herring.

    The issue is Sugar, it is the killer it causes. High blood pressure, obesity, hunger, lethargy and Gout.

    Latest research points towards it causing Alzeimers and making some cancers to grow quicker.

    So again, do the test yourself, it is easy, I’ve done it. cut out the sugar and watch your weight drop. To really nail it cut out the white flour and potatoe as well.

    Sugar is toxic over the medium term.

  • Micheal Clark

    Pretty! It was really a wonderful blog. Thanks for the provided information.Garcinia Cambogia

  • http://www.researchpaperstobuy.com/#axzz2sMKCyohc Kelvin Nyota

    The main problem is the lack of outdoor activities that causes obesity in children and adults.

 

 

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