September 4, 2008

Flame Retardants in Children's Blood: Another Cause of the "Obesity Epidemic"

I have long argued that the so-called "obesity epidemic" is caused not by moral failings--gluttony and sloth--but by genetic damage which destroys the normal in-built systems the body relies on to control hunger and weight.

A main cause for this huge upsurge in genetic damage is the way that humans have, over the past two generations, injected thousands of novel human-created organic chemicals into our environment. These chemicals are found in our air, water, shampoo and toothpaste, packaging, non-stick cooking pans, plastic dishes, baby bottles, cans, and now, it appears, home furnishings.

A disturbing report was just issued by a group called the Environmental Working Group. It found a fire retardant chemical used in electronics, toys and furniture has been detected in children's blood at triple the levels found in their mothers.

As the Reuters news article reporting this finding explains, "In a small pilot study of 20 families, the non-profit environmental group tested blood samples from mothers and their young children -- ages 18 months to four years -- for the presence of PBDEs, a hormone-disrupting chemical.

"In 19 of the 20 families, concentrations of PBDEs were typically three times as high in children as in their mothers, said Sonya Lunder, the study's author. One child had six times the level of the chemical that was detected in her mother.

You can read more about this study here:
Fire Retardant Found in Children.

The report continues: "PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are hormone-disrupting pollutants that build up in the blood and tissues. Two forms of PBDEs are no longer made in the United States but are still present in items in U.S. homes, the study said.

"The largest volume of PBDEs are in electronics in a form called Deca, which is banned in European electronics and in some U.S. states, according to the study...

"The study cited peer-reviewed tests that showed a single dose of PBDEs given to mice on a single day when their brains were growing rapidly can cause permanent behavior changes, including hyperactivity."

But hyperactivity isn't the only effect of these chemicals on the body. Another study presented at Life Sciences 2007, a UK scientific gathering, goes into more depth about exactly what these bromine flame retardants do in the body:

Link Found between Flame Retardant in Sofas and Cancer

From this report we learn, "Brominated Flame Retardants (or BFRs) are known endocrine disrupters - ie. they interfere with the body’s endocrine system (our glands), adversely affecting hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone in the human body.

"The research found that TBBPA binds to cell membranes within the human body, altering their biophysical properties, and more specifically their calcium permeability, by affecting calcium transport proteins. This disrupts the way in which the cell communicates within the body - a communication process which is called cell-signalling. Errors in cell-signalling are implicated in a wide range of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and auto-immune syndromes."

Taken in isolation, this finding that flame retardant chemicals are in all our blood and even more concentrated in our babies is disturbing. But when we add it to the reports that find significant amounts of Teflon in maternal breast tissue, and which find Bisphenol A in human and especially baby blood, a picture starts to emerge and it is one that should be making all of us question whether obesity is really a matter of "poor lifestyle choices" as the chemical industry would have us believe, or a symptom of something far more disturbing.

The fact is, sedentary people who have normal metabolisms do not eat 4,000 calories a day, no matter how tempting. When I was raising my kids all the child health books pointed to studies that had proven conclusively that normal healthy toddlers would not over-eat no matter how much food they were presented with.

Back in those days it was also well understood that if children that young did display abnormal feeding patterns, it needed to be investigated, because an inability to stop eating of the type that led to obesity in children that young pointed to severe endocrine disruption, often linked to genetic conditions known to dysregulate feeding behavior.

And indeed, in my childhood in the 1950s obesity was extremely rare. If you referred to a schoolmate a, "The fat kid," everyone knew who you meant because the whole grade only had one. Yet our school cafeterias served cake for dessert every day. There were potatoes with every meal. We downed our share of candy bars, Twinkies and Hostess Snowballs (made with lard, not transfat). We ate plenty of french fries, pizza, and potato chips too. But we did not get fat.

Could this have had something to do with the fact that as babies we played with wood and metal toys, ate from metal pans, and crawled on wood, wool-carpeted, or linoleum floors?

It is hard to say. But what is disturbing to me is the way that the medical community completely ignores the evidence that our blood has become a chemical brew filled with complex organic molecules that are biologically active. Instead it continues to blame obesity and the rise in diabetes on "lifestyle choices."

Yes, people who get fat may eat too much. But the question is not "Why don't they have more will power?" It is this: What has happened to the in-built systems that in normal healthy people regulate appetite? What has disrupted the signaling that used to tell us we had eaten enough? What is causing the kind of ravenous hunger that would allow a person to eat 1500 calories at lunch?

The chemical industry puts a lot of money and lobbying power into assuring us every time a study like this comes out that these levels of alien chemicals in our bodies are safe. They don't base these claims on solid research findings because there are no studies on the long term effects of these chemicals on human bodies.

But the "research" is going on all around us as several hundred million people go about their lives with their bloodstreams filled with these artificially introduced bioactive organic molecules.

And that research right now appears to be turning to learning happens when babies are born to mothers who were themselves exposed to these chemicals in the womb. It will be another generation until we see those results. But the preliminary findings from this research on the human population are becoming clear: We have an epidemic of obesity, a much higher prevalence of infertility, a surge of Type 2 diabetes in people far younger than that the population that used to develop it, and most troublingly, we are seeing Type 2 diabetes develop in toddlers who are far too young to have developed diabetes from "lifestyle choices" since it takes about a decade for Type 2 to develop in response to diet-related obesity.

Are you feeling scared yet?


Later the same day:

Yet another study linking Bisphenol-A blood levels with changes in behavior and mood.

Chemical in Plastic is Connected to Health Problems in Monkeys

"In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale team exposed monkeys to levels of bisphenol A deemed safe for humans by the Environmental Protection Agency and found that the chemical interfered with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood.

"'Our findings suggest that exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function,' the authors wrote. In contrast to earlier research on rodents, the Yale researchers studied monkeys to better approximate the way BPA might affect humans."

Change how the brain works, and you also change how much people eat.


ItsTheWooo said...

Jenny, I completely agree. I was a child in the 80s and I was the only fat girl in my class. Today, if you walk by a school yard, I would have been on the larger side of average.

I think autism, ADHD and bipolar are strongly related to environmental toxins - these aren't fad diagnoses, there really *is* an epidemic of people's brains not working correctly.

I sometimes wonder if my own severe, early onset obesity was at part chemically mediated. Low carb did help me to fix my obesity, and now I am thin, but my body behaves as if it is starving (implying my body does not *want* to be thin and preferred obesity). When I say my body "behaves as if starving" I mean that, for an example, I make such a low amount of leptin that I am completely amenorrhetic unless I take a daily injection. Since begining leptin replacement (as part of a study) I have regained normal, regular, ovulatory cycles (and a number of other abnormalities in mood and energy and hunger have normalized).

Originally I had thought the leptin deficiency, in spite of good cal intake (1700) and adequate bodyfat (21%) was just because my body was "damaged" by having been obese.

Now I'm wondering maybe there is some kind of chemical damage which artificially reduces my leptin, and this contributed to obesity AND the problems after weight loss?
It's possible it could be genetic but genetic mutations in leptin are very rare.

Khürt Williams said...


Anonymous said...

For every overweight person that blames their weight on these chemicals, I would like to personally see the contents of their refrigerator and pantry. How much junk food do they have?? What beverages do they drink? And more important how many times a week do they eat out and what type of restaurants do they eat at??

Anonymous said...

More on the subject of endocrine disruptors

Many if not most of the diseases which are increasing have at least some genetic comonent,but something(s) appear to be causing the genes to express.

Dietary influences are some but probably not all of it. And some of the environmental factors also affect other species.

Anonymous said...


For every overweight person that consumes junk food and crappy beverages, dines out many times a week at low quality restaurants, there is another skinny or normal weight person who does the same.

One can say the same things for people, both overweight and not, who eat home-cooked, unprocessed food, rarely dine out, and tend to favor higher quality restaurants.

There is more to weight issues than just the "quality" of the food. It's time to get past the "gluttony and sloth" labeling. Yes, some people eat poorly, but they don't all become overweight. Yes, some people eat high quality food, but they don't all stay slim; the rigorous scientific data doesn't support that sort of blame game, either.

I highly recommend Gary Taubes' book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease as a good start.

Anonymous said...

Anna is spot on, and the corollary is also true, just as there are many obese non-diabetics so there are many slim diabetics. The current media stereotypes do not fit the real world at all well (so no surprise there then).

Maybe eating crap would have made me fat, but not eating crap sure as hell didn't stop me being diabetic. The only thing I've so far found to make me gain weight was the Healthy High Carb Low Fat Diet, with emphasis on the low fat part: reducing the carbs and increasing the fat made me lose all the weight again in short order AND improved my lipids. The media and those who talk down to the thick people would disagree but an increasing number of Real Nutritionists are digging into what really happens with real people in the real world and coming up with some markedly different opinions.

The population here still contains a relatively low proportion of obese and overweight folks but I have noticed an increase in recent years, it's not MacDonalds beccause we don't have one. There's some Factor X which has decimated the population in other areas which has so far had less effect here *so far* emphasised.