Sidestep This Invisible Menace That’s Making Us Fat

Conventional “diet wisdom” has been bad enough. But now there’s a new category of chemicals that’s building even fatter thighs, butts, and bellies.

I call them “obesogens.”

These invisible toxins are getting into your food and making you fat. And unless you take action, it won’t just tip the scales. You could wind up sick and diseased, too.

I’m talking about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in your food and water.

These chemicals, which have a structure that closely resembles the hormone estrogen, go from your food into your bloodstream, where they send out the “fat command” to the cells in your body.

The bad news is that your body can’t tell the difference between these estrogen mimics and the real thing. As far as your body is concerned, these chemicals that look like estrogen are estrogen.

And whether you’re a man or a woman, too much estrogen makes you fat, slow, tired, and diseased.

Obesogens Hijack Your Body’s “Fat Signals”

Researchers are starting to speak out. In an article that just hit my desk, a professor from the University of Missouri hit the nail on the head:

“Obesogens are thought to act by hijacking the regulatory systems that control body weight… and any chemical that interferes with body weight is an endocrine disruptor.”1

What we’re seeing is an actual takeover. Your body gets commands from an external source telling it to pack on more fat.

The Endocrine Society, the largest research organization on hormones, said in a recent report:

“The rise in the incidence in obesity matches the rise in the use and distribution of industrial chemicals that may be playing a role in the generation of obesity, suggesting that EDCs may be linked to this epidemic.”2

I see this everywhere. It’s a problem for my patients, even for my son. We all need to act now.

Estrogen Hits Our Kids the Hardest

My son Dylan is 12 years old. I’ve measured his body composition regularly since he was in preschool. He used to be so lean; he was “below the scale” at less than 3% body fat. Today, his body fat is 17%. That would be fine for a grown man, but not someone his age.

Dylan went from being skinny to the point where he actually needs to drop a few pounds. And he’s not the sort of kid who sits around playing video games. He plays tennis almost every day and is always outside. And of course, I pay very close attention to his diet.

For girls, this extra estrogen causes early, or “precocious,” puberty. Their young bodies interpret the extra estrogen as the call to develop breasts and sexual traits, yet they’re as young as 7 and 8 years old.

The next time you’re walking through your local mall, take a look around. Kids have changed. They’re not just heavier and more out-of-shape; they’re turning into “adults” before their time.

Men and women are changing, too, but experience extra estrogen in different ways. Both will get the excess weight, but there are specific differences.

Men: Rising Estrogen Can Drop Your Sperm Count and Boost Your Risk of Prostate Cancer

More than 15% of couples in the U.S. are unable to have a child.3 And in 30% to 40% of these cases, male infertility is the problem. But not just in America. British sperm counts and sperm density have dropped dramatically beginning way back before World War II.4

There’s Nowhere to Run to… Nowhere to Hide

Since you can’t see, smell, or taste them, you can’t tell which products contain estrogen look-a-likes.

But they’re very common. Here’s a short list of some of the products containing EDCs:

  • Vinyl flooring
  • Detergents
  • Shampoo
  • Deodorants
  • Perfumes
  • Hair spray
  • Moisturizers
  • Garden hoses
  • Inflatable toys
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Plastics

And the list goes on… But of all the synthetics that have estrogens, plastics are the worst. They’re everywhere. From plastic bags and water bottles to the packaging your food comes in, plastic is almost impossible to escape.

The drastic decline in fertility has now been directly linked to HPTE’s interference with testosterone production in the testes.5

Tufts University research shows that crop dusters who handled estrogen-impersonating pesticides lost their sexual desire and developed very low sperm counts.6 It’s no small wonder that male breast cancer has increased 26% over the past two decades.7

I am even more concerned about these rogue chemicals’ effect on prostate disease. German research shows that estrogen levels in prostatic tissue increase as men get older.8 And the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that estrogen may increase your risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – or swollen prostate.9

Even more incriminating, I found Japanese evidence that prostate size directly correlates with the ratio of estradiol (a form of estrogen) to free testosterone. In fact, “…patients with large prostates have more estrogen dominate environments” and “…estrogens are the key hormones for the induction and development of BPH.”10

Women: Too Much Estrogen Makes Menopause Miserable

Until recently, the change of life rarely caused dramatic or disabling symptoms. And get this: Now in the U.S., 9 out of 10 women have serious symptoms.11

With all this extra estrogen from your environment, your blood estrogen level becomes elevated. Then, when you enter menopause, your estrogen has further to fall.

Menopause becomes a nightmare instead of a gentle passage into a new stage of life. During menopause, your estrogen may drop by 40%, but your progesterone (your feel-good hormone) falls to almost zero. This new gap between the two worsens your symptoms.

While overall cancer rates are falling, reproductive cancers like breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer continue to rise. Too much estrogen in our environment is a key factor in that rise.12

Drive Down Estrogen and Get Back to the Foods You Really Love

There’s no way you can completely avoid chemicals in your environment. They’re here to stay. But you can reduce your exposure to chemicals and pesticides and lower your blood level of estrogen.

First, a few tips on buying produce. Fruits and vegetables are one of your biggest exposure risks to chemicals and pesticides.

Eating organic helps, but you don’t have to buy organic produce exclusively, just the ones that have the worst record. I’ve written to you before about the Environmental Working Group. They’re a non-profit dedicated to uncovering the biggest environmental threats to your health.

They put together a “dirty dozen” list of foods with the highest levels of pesticides and other obesogens.

These you should buy organic:

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Bell peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Kale
  9. Lettuce
  10. Imported grapes
  11. Carrots
  12. Pears

Meat and poultry is another big source of EDCs. But that doesn’t mean you have to start eating bird food or tofu burgers. I encourage you to eat meat. It’s what our ancestors thrived on. But you should know where it comes from.

Your best bet is grass-fed beef, although depending on where you live, it may not be readily available. You can buy grass-fed beef online if you like. A good resource is U.S. Wellness Meats.

Your other option is looking for meat that’s been raised without drugs. It won’t necessarily be grass-fed, but it will be free of estrogen and antibiotics. There are usually brands at your local grocery store. If they’re not labeled, just ask someone behind the counter to help you.

Here are 10 tips for lowering your exposure to these chemicals:

  1. Avoid canned foods as much as possible. Food cans often have high levels of EDCs that leech into the food.
  2. Reduce your use of plastic products like bags, bottles, and plastic wraps.
  3. Eliminate pesticides from water with a water purifier.
  4. Wash your vegetables and fruits before eating.
  5. You can buy special products at organic food stores made for washing vegetables and fruits.
  6. Buy grass-fed or hormone-free meats. If you get meat from other sources, trim off the fat. EDCs collect in the fat.
  7. Avoid processed meats; they have fat ground in.
  8. Avoid processed carbohydrates like bread, cereals, and pasta. They cause excess insulin, which builds fat and stimulates feminizing estrogen.
  9. Eat vegetables high in fiber to absorb excess estrogen.
  10. Work with your doctor to reduce or eliminate medications. These interfere with your liver’s capacity to remove excess estrogens.

You can also lower the amount of estrogen in your blood. Eating more of the cruciferous veggies helps: cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. I also use supplements that improve estrogen elimination.

DIM: DIM (diindolylmethane) lowers estrogen naturally. It’s found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. It works to break down estrogen into safer compounds, which you pass in the urine.

One study at UC Berkeley found that estrogen passed in the urine of those taking DIM was much higher than the control group.13

I3C: Short for indole-3-carbinol, it protects cells from cancer and mutations. It also “tones down” your estrogen receptors.

Both of these natural supplements are effective for both men and women. You can find them at your local health-food store or vitamin store.

  1. Perrine S. “Don’t blame fast food for making you fat.” MSNBC. Mar 8, 2010.
  2. Diamanti-Kandarakis E, et al. Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. The Endocrine Society. 2009.
  3. Pizzorno JE. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition, 1999:1377-1387.
  4. Carlsen E. et al. “Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during the past 50 years.” British Medical Journal. Sep 1992; 305(6854):609-13.
  5. Akingbemi BT et al. “A metabolite of methoxychlor, 2,2-bis(p-hydroxyphenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane, reduces testosterone biosynthesis in rat Leydig cells.” Population Briefs, Population Council 1999; 5(4): 31-2.
  6. Sonnenschein C, Soto AM. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 1998 Apr; 65(1-6):143-50.
  7. Associated Press. “Rise in male breast cancer linked to obesity.” May 24, 2004.
  8. Krieg et al. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1993.
  9. Ross RK, Henderson BE. “Do diet and androgens alter prostate cancer risk via a common pathway?” J Natl Cancer Inst 1994;86:252-4.
  10. Suzuki, K., et al. “Endocrine environment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: prostate size and volume are correlated with serum estrogen concentration.” Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology. 29 (1995):65-68.
  11. Lock M. “Menopause: Lessons from Anthropology,” Psychosom Med 1998; 60(4): 410-9.
  12. Starek A. “Estrogens and organochlorine xenoestrogens and breast cancer risk,” Int J Occup Med Environ Health 2003; 16(2): 113-24.
  13. Dalessandri KM, Firestone GL, Fitch MD, et al. “Pilot study: effect of 3,3′-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer.” Nutr Cancer 2004; 50(2): 161-67.