Environmental toxicities refer to exposure to harmful chemicals, pollutants, and other
substances affecting human health. These can range from contaminants in the air and water to
chemicals in our food and everyday products. Growing evidence suggests a connection
between environmental toxicities and weight-related issues, including the following examples:
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): Certain chemicals interfere with our
hormonal systems and disrupt normal metabolic processes. Examples include bisphenol
A (BPA) and phthalates. These disruptors can impact the body’s ability to regulate
metabolism, appetite, and fat storage, leading to weight gain or obesity. These chemicals
are in plastics, food containers, pesticides, and personal care products such as
cosmetics or lotions. A practical way to decrease risk is to avoid storing food in plastic –
use glass or metal containers instead.
- Air Pollution: Exposure to air dust, delicate matter, and traffic-related pollutants
increases the risk of obesity and associated metabolic disorders. Inhalation of these
pollutants can lead to systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, and metabolic pathway
alterations. Such disturbances can contribute to weight gain and, in some cases,
exacerbate obesity-related complications. Living in polluted areas or places with high
environmental toxicities can also induce stress. Chronic stress has been linked to weight
gain, particularly around the abdominal area, due to the release of stress hormones like
cortisol, which promote fat storage.
- Pesticides: Many conventional agriculture pesticides can leave residues on fruits and
vegetables. Pesticides accumulate in the food chain and may be present in certain
products. These chemicals affect metabolic processes and contribute to weight gain by
disrupting natural weight control mechanisms when consumed. Examples include
organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT. A proactive way to reduce this is choosing
organic produce with thin outside peels (e.g., apples but not bananas, strawberries but
not oranges, papaya but not melon). When there is no thick peel to protect it, there is an
increased risk of chemicals penetrating the plant and harming the person who eats it.
- Heavy Metals: Heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium are toxic substances in
certain foods, contaminated water sources, and environmental pollutants. Chronic
exposure to heavy metals is associated with metabolic disturbances, oxidative stress,
inflammation, and weight gain. Research is ongoing to understand this connection
- Food Additives: Research suggests that certain food additives, such as artificial sweeteners (e.g., aspartame, stevia) and high-fructose corn syrup, harm metabolism and weight regulation. Due to increased appetite without fullness signals, an individual feels hungry even after eating sufficient calories, despite eating enough calories. Highly processed foods often contain artificial additives, preservatives, and other chemicals that impact metabolism. Research is ongoing to understand the relationship between these and metabolic health, including obesity.
In conclusion, environmental toxicities impact weight differently. Given the omnipresence of
these environmental toxicities, it’s crucial to be aware of their potential impacts on health and
take steps to reduce exposure. Adopting practices like eating organic produce, using clean
personal care products, and living in less polluted areas can mitigate some risks. Follow safe
handling practices for pesticides and other poisonous substances to decrease the chances of
harm. Understanding the connection between environmental toxicities and weight-related issues
underscores the importance of holistic approaches to health that consider not just individual
choices but also the broader environment in which we live.