In recent years, rates of obesity and prediabetes have skyrocketed. Prediabetes affects one in three people in the United States, and so does obesity. It’s not a surprise that these diseases have similar statistics because blood sugar imbalances are the most common cause of weight gain. People with prediabetes are usually overweight, and overweight individuals often have prediabetes, whether they know it or not. Prediabetes is a condition characterized by high levels of blood sugar and the hormone insulin, which triggers the body to store fat. Because there are often no symptoms, many people don’t even know they have prediabetes.
There’s no question that poor diet and lack of exercise contribute to weight gain and prediabetes, but there’s another piece to the puzzle: the environment. Research studies have linked toxic chemicals in the environment to weight gain and prediabetes. Most of the time, we can’t see or smell or taste environmental toxins, but they’re very real and we come into contact with them every day. Chemicals in the environmental that promote weight gain and prediabetes include pesticides, bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Pesticides have been shown to cause insulin resistance in animals and weight gain in children. Five billion pounds of pesticides are applied annually to crops in the US. They soak into the soil where they’re taken up into plants through their root systems and distributed throughout, so we can’t just wash them off. When agricultural run-off pollutes local waterways, pesticides also accumulate in drinking water and fish.
BPA has been shown to increase inflammation in the body and promote the growth of fat cells, while phthalates have been shown to promote weight gain in children. BPA and phthalates are used to make water bottles, baby bottles, fast food containers, pizza boxes, epoxy linings inside food and beverage cans, plastic wrap, and containers made from plastic and StyrofoamTM including beverage cups and egg cartons. Phthalates are also found in personal products like shampoo, deodorant, and lotion.
PFOA is used to make nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, and stain-resistant surfaces. Animal studies show that when mothers are exposed to PFOA during pregnancy, their offspring become obese as adults and have high levels levels of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that affects metabolism and appetite.
These chemicals aren’t only in the environment; they’re already inside our bodies. Almost 500 different toxins have been detected in human blood and fat tissue and studies show that the older we get, the more toxins we contain. We’ll never be able to escape them completely, but we can take steps to minimize our exposure and the effects they have on our bodies. Here are my top five tips for avoiding chemicals linked to weight gain and prediabetes:
1. Filter your water. Find a water filter buying guide from the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org/tap-water/getawaterfilter.php.
2. Eat organic whenever you can. When you can’t, replace the Dirty Dozen most contaminated fruits and vegetables with the Clean Fifteen least contaminated ones (www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php).
3. Don’t consume foods or drinks that have been in contact with plastic, Styrofoam™ or nonstick surfaces. Replace plastic food and beverage containers with glass or stainless steel versions. Replace nonstick cookware with stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans.
4. Learn what you’re putting on your skin and find alternatives if necessary with the cosmetics safety database from the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org/skindeep/).
5. Detox once or twice a year using a comprehensive program designed to burn fat and eliminate toxins from the body. See your naturopathic doctor for an individualized protocol or read The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings.
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**This post has been contributed by, Dr. Sarah Cimperman. Dr. Cimperman is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City. She is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. For more information about prediabetes and detoxification, visit The Prediabetes Detox. For more information about Dr. Cimperman, visit Dr. Sarah Cimperman.