You might be surprised or perhaps not surprised to learn that pollution around us increases our risk of being overweight and of getting conditions like type 2 diabetes. In fact, some studies are now calling it a catalyst for obesity, meaning it speeds up the process. One study of 700 pregnant women found that those with higher levels of pollutants in their body from the environment around them, like air pollution, had children with 2.5 times more fat mass than those who were not around pollutants.
There are also chemicals called EDCs or Endocrine disrupting chemicals, like BPA are often found in various products like plastics and cosmetics. These act like synthetic hormones on our cells and can cause a range of health concerns. There is now a range of EDCs called obesogens because we know they can lead to obesity.
Substances like these EDCs, nitrogen-oxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and many others have profound biological effects on how our hormones work, can cause inflammation in our bodies and disrupt normal cell function. Some also theorise that when we cannot get rid of the pollutants fast enough the body intentionally stores them in our fat because that is where it will do the least damage.
So what can we do about it? Well the obvious answer is to try to minimise our exposure where possible and it may help, but there are actually no studies I could find to show that avoiding exposure will have major effects on weight loss. Hence to be clear this is more of an assumption that it may help. There is a little bit of evidence to show that when we start to lose weight we release these stored pollutants from the body fat stores into our blood. This is really interesting because there was a fear that when the body releases these fat stores of pollutants that it will cause lots of diseases, but in fact this study showed the opposite because our body also produces lots of natural antioxidants at the same time and then excretes the pollutants, which enhanced heart health and reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. So once again our bodies are awesome.
Avoiding these pollutants is easier in some ways like buying safe cosmetic products, not using plastic bottles or other containers and staying away from air pollution like traffic. Sometimes though this can be tough in today’s world where lots of areas and things are exposed do what you can. If you cannot change some situations then I don’t want you to become really frantic or worried about it, that will not help your health journey – do what you can but still live your life. Fortunately, various health bodies are pushing governments to ban these and for some, it is slowly working. In 2001 the Stockholm Convention was an international agreement to remove a lot of these chemicals. Sadly the USA was one of the few countries do not yet accept this, but most other countries have. So there is still a lot of work to be done, so in the meantime find that sensible space where we are cautious about them and avoid what you can but not becoming overwhelmed by it.