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“Dr. Hyman, I’ve been reading about the role of environmental toxins in our health,” writes this week’s house call. “What is the best way to get rid of these toxins and are things like household cleaners and skincare products really that harmful?”
The short answer is yes. We know that environmental toxins, such as BPA and other chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs), can increase the risk of weight gain and even type 2 diabetes independent of calorie intake. I had one patient, who I treated years ago, come up to me at my recent book party. I didn’t even recognize her because she lost 40 pounds after I helped her detoxify from mercury. Before we removed the mercury, no amount of eating right or exercising helped her lose weight.
To fully understand just how harmful these environmental toxins can be, we need to understand how the detoxification process actually works.
If you ask most doctors about detoxification, they will most likely tell you it is absurd to think you can “detox” your whole system or even any organ, such as your liver.
Reframe that question and you’ll get a different answer. Ask your doctor how bad things can get once your kidneys or liver stop working. What about if you get constipated for a long period of time? Those are the kinds of things doctors get worked up about, but prevention and maintenance, unfortunately, often are not the primary focus.
What these doctors often neglect to understand is that our bodies continuously detoxify. In our modern age, our bodies simply cannot keep up with the constant daily barrage of environmental and dietary toxins.
These toxins, which include plastics, pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, mercury, lead, arsenic or any one of the 80,000 chemicals introduced into our world since the industrial revolution, can interfere with your metabolism and cause weight gain even when you stick with a normal-calorie diet.
That “new car smell” provides a great example. That “scent” that you are breathing in daily is most likely formaldehyde, which has been shown to cause adverse health effects and even cancer.
Why We Should Avoid Obesogens
We call these environmental toxins obesogens or foreign chemical compounds that disrupt fat metabolism and create weight gain.
Obesogens are more prevalent than you might imagine. Stop and consider the average newborn has 287 chemicals in his or her umbilical cord blood. Since they are brand new to the world, you can see that exposure only gets worse from there.
Studies show early-life exposure to environmental toxins can play a major role in predisposing animals to insulin resistance, hormone disruptions and obesity. Toxins promote weight gain in many ways, including affecting your metabolism, your hormones and your brain function.
As we become more toxic, we get fatter. Obesity rates continue to rise in the U.S. and abroad. Almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight. The latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about 35 percent of Americans are obese.
Even animals and lab rats are getting fatter, suggesting an environmental aspect independent of calorie intake and energy expenditure. And in fact, animal studies show toxic chemicals can cause weight gain independent of any change in calorie intake or exercise.
Where do these toxins come from? They lurk in your cosmetics, skincare products, soaps, shampoos, deodorant, food, water, air, household cleaners, plastic food storage containers, furniture, mattresses and carpets.
Maybe you carry a plastic water bottle and Tupperware to work every day. These products contain chemicals that leach into our water and food. These and other toxins can really wreak havoc on your health.
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