(NaturalNews) Hormone- and metabolism-ravaging chemicals, like brominated flame retardants, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic. A new study out of Japan, the first of its kind, links the flame retardant hexabromocyclodecane (HBCD) to accelerated weight gain. Flame retardant chemicals are often used in building materials and insulation and have been proven to disrupt hormones, metabolism and immune system function. This study shows how these industrial chemicals accumulate in the tissues of animals and humans, accelerating weight gain, affecting blood sugar levels and leading to other metabolic disorders like diabetes. In fact, this study shows how a high-fat diet laced with brominated flame retardant chemicals increases weight gain by 30 percent.
Prenatal exposure to "obesogens" reprograms fetus metabolism
In the study, these metabolism-disrupting chemicals were shown to boost the speed and amount of weight gain in mice. The researchers found that prenatal exposure to these "obesogens" actually reprograms the metabolism of the fetus, welcoming more fat cells to develop while raising the risk of obesity later in life. High-fat, high-calorie diets are not the only way that people become obese. This study helps explain why some people are more likely to become obese (due to the chemicals they are exposed to in the womb).
The researchers state that HBCD, "May contribute to enhancement of diet-induced body weight gain and metabolic dysfunction."
In the 15-week adult mice study, 46 male mice were divided into groups that included high-fat diets, normal diets and diets with and without exposure to HBCD.
High-fat diets with high exposure to HBCD showed fast weight gain averaging at 21 grams in just 15 weeks. These HBCD-exposed mice also showed much higher blood sugar and insulin levels than unexposed mice. Their livers were much heavier, and inflammation was prevalent, especially in the adipose tissues.
The mice fed high-fat diets without the flame retardant showed gained 30 percent less weight. The 5 gram weight difference, although small in human terms, was very noticeable in the mice. Since the average weight of the mice before the experiment was 21 grams, the weight of HBCD-exposed mice literally doubled in just 15 weeks!
Theoretically, this is equivalent to a 150 pound person becoming 300 pounds in just a few years. It may take people longer to double their weight, because people have a different life span and body mass index ratio than mice, but this kind of weight gain and obesity is seen in humans today. Prenatal exposure to these chemicals may have set some people up to gain weight faster than others.
Flame retardant chemicals more damaging in the presence of high-fat diets
Lack of exercise or high-fat diets may not be the only cause of obesity, but these factors still play an important role in the epidemic, the authors of the study conclude.
In the study, flame retardant chemicals were found to be more damaging to the metabolism when the metabolism is being simultaneously taxed with a high-fat diet. "In contrast, no alterations in body and liver weight were observed in normal-diet fed mice with or without HBCD," the authors wrote.
For those concerned about exposure to these chemicals, the authors pointed out that the amount of HBCD used in the tests was substantially higher than average intake of humans today. Those who should be most concerned are pregnant mothers. Since the fetus is small, developing and vulnerable, what a mother consumes could have a greater impact on the child's hormonal and metabolic development. The researchers pointed out changes in gene expression of glucose transporters in mice fed high-HBCD diets.
This dysfunction in the metabolism is what accelerates obesity later in life. "These results suggest that HBCD may contribute to metabolic dysfunction via an interaction with diet, i.e., HBCD may be an 'enhancer obesogen,'" the researchers wrote.
This will not be the last study of its kind. Flame retardants, along with a whole host of chemicals, are now being studied for their link to obesity, diabetes and other human health issues. Chemicals like phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, bisphenol A, arsenic, tributyltin, dioxins, PCBs and DDT will come under heavy scrutiny in the years ahead.