New Study May Explain One Surprising Reason Why Couch Potatoes are Obese

Flame retardants associated with obesity

People who are couch potatoes may have more than a lack of activity to blame for their obesity, new research hints that your couch could contain fat-causing chemicals called “obesogens.”

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According to a news release from the University of New Hampshire, UNH researchers found that laboratory rats exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, experienced a disruption in their metabolism that resulted in the development of metabolic and liver problems that can lead to insulin resistance―a major cause of obesity.

So just how can this potentially relate to couch potatoes? PBDEs are synthetic flame retardant chemicals that are found in many common household items such as carpet padding and your couch.

As it turns out, concern about PBDEs in the home has been voiced in earlier studies by the Environmental Working Group that showed young children in the home had three times higher blood levels of PBDEs than their mothers did.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, involved daily dosing of rats with high levels of flame retardants for one month. What the researchers found was that the flame retardant chemical exposure made the rats’ fat cells become sensitive to epinephrine and less sensitive to insulin―a condition similar to that experienced by people who are overweight.

The researchers hypothesize that the insulin resistance could be due to the suppression of a key metabolic enzyme―phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, or PEPCK―in the liver, which is responsible for sugar and fat metabolism.

“One of the hallmarks of somebody who is becoming diabetic―and often this accompanies weight gain―is that their fat cells become sluggish in their response to insulin. With epinephrine, the fat cells more easily release the fatty acids into the blood stream and if those fatty acids are not used, they promote insulin resistance,” said Gale Carey, a professor of nutrition at UNH who conducted the study.

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“Those two features―insulin resistance and epinephrine sensitivity―are two features of fat cells from people who are above normal weight. And that’s what we were seeing in our rats. Even though our rats had not gained weight, they were experiencing ‘metabolic obesity’,” she added.

The significance of their research is that it points to the possibility that part of the obesity epidemic could be due to environmental factors such as exposure to environmental chemicals called “obesogens” that disrupts the human body’s metabolism and hormonal system―perhaps, not unlike the well-researched concern that BPA (bisphenol A) found in canned foods, plastic bottles and other items acts as a synthetic estrogen that could disrupt a person’s hormone levels and hormone balance and possibly cause breast cancer.

“Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic, this epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved,” states Carey.

For more about the hidden dangers of PBDEs, here is an informative article about how PBDE may cause hyperthyroidism in your cat.

References:

UNH press release "UNH Research: Strong Link Found Between Flame Retardants and Obesity"

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE)-Induced Suppression of Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase (PEPCK) Decreases Hepatic Glyceroneogenesis and Disrupts Hepatic Lipid HomeostasisJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Volume 78, Issue 23-24 (2015); Kylie R. Cowens et al.

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