7 Chemicals That Can Make You Sick and Fat

Historically, the general consensus has been that obesity occurs because energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. The reality, however, is that obesity is a multifactorial and complex disease. The aetiology goes beyond the oversimplified energy equation, and ultimately involves the interaction between genes and our environment, chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system and lifestyle factors such a diet and activity.

There are many chemicals that are ubiquitous in our foods, food containers and self-care products that can make you sick and fat. Do you read food labels? Would you be able to identify these chemicals?

Here is a list of 7 Chemicals That Can Make You Sick and Fat. How many do you consume or are you exposed to?

1. Artificial Sweeteners (e.g. Acesulfame potassium, Aspartame, Saccharin and Sucralose)

In the face of the growing obesity, individuals have increasingly turned to artificially sweetened (AS) foods and beverages in an attempt to lose weight, or control it. While conventional wisdom suggests that use of AS products should enhance weight loss and/or help prevent further gain, there is evidence that these chemicals fuel rather than fight the growing obesity epidemic.

In one study, the height, weight, and artificial sweetened beverage (ASB) consumption were measured among 5,158 adult residents of San Antonio, Texas over about eight years. There was a significant positive dose-response relationship shown between baseline ASB consumption and weight gain. In fact, Consuming >21 ASBs/week vs. consuming none was associated with a two-fold risk of of obesity compared with nonusers

(Fowler et al. 2008)

2. Bisphenol (BPA) and Phthalates
BPH and Phthalates, are found in plastics (including baby bottles) and food containers.

BPA mimics the female sex hormone estradiol. In the body it binds and activates estrogen receptors. This in turn regulates adipocyte (fat cell) programming, metabolism and glucose homeostasis.
Multiple studies have associated BPA exposure with weight gain and obesity, BPA exposure has also been linked to insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, genital malformation.
Like BPA, phthalates are also endocrine disruptors, changing the function of hormones in our bodies. Phthalates may be contributing to increased susceptibility to weight gain by affecting hormone receptors called PPARs, which are intimately involved in metabolism.
Both BPA and Phthalates can easily leach out of plastics and contaminate foods.
(Vom Saal, et al. 2012) (Nadal, 2013) (Desvergne, 2009)

3. Emulsifiers

The gastrointestinal tract is inhabited by a diverse community of microbes known as the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is essential for metabolism and immune development. Disturbance of the microbiome has been linked to numerous chronic inflammatory diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and the group of obesity-associated diseases known as metabolic syndrome (Increased blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels).

The intestine is protected from its microbiota via multi-layered mucus structures that cover the intestinal surface, which serves to keep these bacteria at a safe distance.

Substances that disrupt mucus–bacterial interactions can promote diseases associated with gut inflammation.

Emulsifiers, such as carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80 (commonly found in commercial baked goods), are detergent-like molecules that are a ubiquitous component of processed foods. These chemicals can increase bacterial translocation, perturb the gut lining and promote ongoing low grade inflammation associated with obesity and other illnesses.

(Chassaing et al. 2015)

4. Food Dyes- A rainbow of Risks

Food dyes, synthesized originally from coal tar and now petroleum, have long been controversial.
Numerous dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals.
Many of the currently approved dyes raise health concerns.

Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice, and possible effects nerve cells. It can also cause hypersensitivity reactions.

Blue 2 leads to significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats.

Citrus Red 2 is toxic to rodents and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs

Green 3 caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats

Red 3 was recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. The FDA still permits Red 3 in ingested drugs and foods. Red 3 may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. The dye causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children.

Yellow 5 may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, Yellow 5 causes sometimes causes severe hypersensitivity reactions and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children.

Yellow 6 caused adrenal tumors in animals

Most studies test individual dyes, whereas many foods and diets contain mixtures of dyes (and other ingredients) that might lead to additive or synergistic effects.

In general, these dyes can lead to organ damage, cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions, mixtures of dyes (and Yellow 5 tested alone) cause hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in some children and cannot be considered safe. They serve no purpose other than a cosmetic effect.

Many countries have stopped using most food dyes because of toxicological considerations, such as carcinogenicity, hypersensitivity reactions, and behavioral effects.

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
The consumption of HFCS increased > 1000% between 1970 and 1990, exceeding the changes in intake of any other food or food group. HFCS now represents > 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages. The increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity. Unlike glucose, fructose metabolism favors lipogenesis (the metabolic formation of fat). In addition, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production, key sensory signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, thereby leading to an increased energy intake and weight gain.

The increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a key role in the obesity epidemic.

(Bray et al. 2004)

6. Soybean Oil

Soybean oil, a polyunsaturated fatty acids, has been postulated to play a causal role in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

Mice fed a diet moderately high in fat from soybean oil showed statistically significant increases in weight gain, adiposity, fatty livers, diabetes, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance compared to mice on a diet consisting primarily of coconut oil (HFD) and a diet high in fructose.

Essentially, a high soybean oil diet, upregulates the genes involved in obesity, diabetes, inflammation and cancer.

(Deol et al, 2015)

7. Trans fats

Trans fats, commonly found in commercially fried foods and baked goods(e.g. Doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes) have been shown to promote intra-abdominal deposition of fat (obesity), even in the absence of caloric excess, as well as insulin resistance (impaired glucose metabolism and Type II Diabetes).

(Kavanagh et al. 2007)

Key Take Home Points:
● The obesity epidemic is multifactorial and is closely linked to chemicals used as sweeteners, flavor enhancers, preservatives and coloring agents; or in food storage containers
● The endocrine system is directly affected by many of these chemicals
● Many chemicals commonly used in food in the U.S. are banned elsewhere
● None of these chemicals are necessary and there are plenty of healthy alternatives

Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.The American journal of clinical nutrition, 79(4), 537-543.

Chassaing, B., Koren, O., Goodrich, J. K., Poole, A. C., Srinivasan, S., Ley, R. E., & Gewirtz, A. T. (2015). Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature, 519(7541), 92-96.

Deol, P., Evans, J. R., Dhahbi, J., Chellappa, K., Han, D. S., Spindler, S., & Sladek, F. M. (2015). Soybean Oil Is More Obesogenic and Diabetogenic than Coconut Oil and Fructose in Mouse: Potential Role for the Liver. PloS one,10(7).

Desvergne, B., Feige, J. N., & Casals-Casas, C. (2009). PPAR-mediated activity of phthalates: a link to the obesity epidemic?. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 304(1), 43-48.

Fowler, S. P., Williams, K., Resendez, R. G., Hunt, K. J., Hazuda, H. P., & Stern, M. P. (2008). Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long‐term Weight Gain. Obesity, 16(8), 1894-1900.

Kavanagh, K., Jones, K. L., Sawyer, J., Kelley, K., Carr, J. J., Wagner, J. D., & Rudel, L. L. (2007). Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys. Obesity, 15(7), 1675-1684.

Nadal, A. (2013). Obesity: Fat from plastics? Linking bisphenol A exposure and obesity. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 9(1), 9-10.

Vom Saal, F. S., Nagel, S. C., Coe, B. L., Angle, B. M., & Taylor, J. A. (2012). The estrogenic endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and obesity.Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 354(1), 74-84.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin