The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Are Chemicals Making Us Fat?

Are Chemicals Making Us Fat?

Holistic health proponents are advocating to get rid of our so-common use of plastics for environmental as well as health reasons. For example, did you ever consider perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) may be contributing to obesity?

In a 2018 study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers found that overweight and obese adults with higher concentrations of man-made chemicals—PFASs—in their blood regained weight more quickly after weight loss. PFASs are in everything from food packaging to household cleaners. According to one of its authors, Dr Qi Sun, an associate professor in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s department of nutrition, the study was the first to suggest contaminants or pollutants can interfere with people's weight-loss efforts. These substances may be able to alter metabolism, encouraging the body to hold onto fat.

What can we do to limit exposure to PFASs? Below are some suggestions. Although some of these suggestions are not new, they may be worth repeating in light of this study, and I found other suggestions really interesting and simple enough to institute.

  • Eat whole, unprocessed foods
  • Limit packaged food choices
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners and food additives such as MSG and artificial food coloring
  • Avoid use of restaurant takeout containers that are grease-proof and may contain PFASs; bring your own glass containers
  • Select organic produce; the pesticides used in non-organic produce can leave chemical residues on the food which interfere with metabolic processes
  • Cook in cast iron pans vs nonstick pots and pans which may be contaminated with perfluorinated chemicals
  • Reduce use of plastic as much as possible: think plastic water bottles, plastic wrapped sandwiches, baggies, etc. Plastic is everywhere; choose cloth bags and re-usable glass

Sound daunting? If you or your patients are struggling with weight loss or weight control, this might be something to consider.

  • Castaneda R, Miller AM. Obesogens: these chemicals may be keeping you fat. Accessed July 30, 2019.
  • Liu G, Dhana K, Furtado JD, et al. Perfluoroalkyl substances and changes in body weight and resting metabolic rate in response to weight-loss diets: a prospective study. Accessed July 30, 2019.

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Filed under: Cardiometabolic, Preventive Medicine

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