It’s politically correct to say a diet high in fat and calories “should” lead to obesity and diabetes. But is it true?
Many scientific studies do not demonstrate this cause-and-effect- relationship. This includes my own Ph.D. dissertation research conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) almost 30 years ago.
In fact, your chances of becoming obese and developing a chronic disease later in life may have more to do with what you ate as a child than what you eat now. It may even depend on your exposure in childhood to certain chemicals that “turn on” fat cells that remain later in life.
The questions began in 1977.
Mrs. Ray Kroc–wife of the founder of McDonald’s–wanted to find out what causes obesity, diabetes, and other modern ills, which have since become an epidemic.
I know. It’s ironic given the popularity of McDonald’s among many overweight men and women in this country. But Mrs. Kroc had the courage to be interested in separating truth from fiction.
Mrs. Kroc was not afraid of learning the truth. And she was quite willing to pay to find out. Back in those days, generous private citizens still funded a lot of medical research. So, in the hopes of finding some answers, Mrs. Kroc offered to fund my research project.
As I told her back then, it is very difficult to perform “cause-effect” type research. We generally have to rely on statistical studies. These studies are good at proving “associations.” But it’s harder to prove the specific cause–or causes–of diseases.
I did begin to research chronic diseases, however, in the 1980s at NIH. And my research strongly suggests the importance of nutrition during childhood.
I found that diet, nutrition and body composition during childhood are more relevant at casting the die for long-term health consequences. In particular, breastfeeding is critically important. It appears to help stave off chronic disease later in life. And it appears to help the breastfeeding mother avoid breast cancer as well.
On the other hand, poor diet and overeating as a child, seems to put people “on track” to develop chronic diseases later in life.
This research led to my Ph.D. dissertation at University of Pennsylvania. I published my findings in medical and human biology journals. But sadly, this avenue of thought didn’t gain much traction after I left NIH.
Fortunately, the research does continue elsewhere…
Years ago, lab scientists developed a strain of mice that, like many humans, are susceptible to obesity and diabetes. Today these mice tell us more about what truly underlies these problems than most statistical studies.
Recently, scientists from University of California, Irvine studied the effects of certain toxic chemicals on mice.
For this study, UC Irvine researchers divided genetically identical mice into two groups. Both groups received the same diet. And they exercised the same amount.
In fact, the two groups were identical in every way but one…
Researchers exposed one group of mice at birth to a vanishingly small amount of a hormone-disrupting chemical.
Any guesses what happened next?
The mice in the group exposed to the chemical grew up and became obese. And the mice in the other group did not.
And, remember, this was just one exposure. At only one-part-per-billion. Yet it had lifelong consequences.
Originally, scientists worried about these chemicals because they appear to cause cancer and sexual malformations. New research shows they also influence the formation of fat.
You see, these endocrine disrupters belong to a class of chemicals that mimic hormones. And, therefore, they confuse the body. They also can lead to the formation of more and larger fat cells.
That’s why scientist Bruce Blumberg, a professor at UC Irvine, calls them “obesogens.”
And they go largely unregulated by the FDA. In fact, you’ll find obesogens in canned foods, food packaging, plastics, agricultural chemicals, foam, and jet fuels.
Another recent study led by Blumberg showed the long-lasting effects of obesogen exposure. It found that problems caused by obesogens pass down to descendants of exposed laboratory mice, generation after generation. Another study showed that women with pesticide residues in their blood bore babies who were already overweight at 14 months.
Scientists don’t know for sure if obesogen exposure past puberty has any effect on obesity. As my earlier Ph.D. research suggests, the damage probably occurs much earlier. As I discovered in the 1980s, important health exposures occur in the womb, during childhood, and before puberty.
So, what is the medical profession doing about this?
A recent survey cited by Scientific American magazine found only 19 percent of doctors warned pregnant women about pesticide exposure. Only eight percent of doctors warned expectant mothers about the chemical BPA in plastics and papers. And only five percent talked about phthalates in cosmetics and shampoos.
And what’s the government doing?
The federal government hasn’t changed federal chemical laws since 1976. Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey wrote the “Safe Chemicals Act.” And he has put it in front of Congress every year since 2005, but he is not running for office again.
The law would require stringent safety testing of the toxic chemicals that surround us. This might also give the FDA more to do than just persecute dietary supplements. The government already mandates that supplements must be “pure” and free of contaminants in the U.S.
Apparently, it has no problem with toxins in food packaging, however!
Unfortunately, the Safe Chemicals Act has long been stalled in the “do-nothing” Congress. Instead of focusing on toxic chemicals in our food and consumer products, the government wages a quasi-scientific war against tobacco, fuel additives, and affordable energy sources.
So, what can you do?
Read the labels of consumer products and stay away rom these chemicals. Above all, keep your children away from them.
Some chemicals to put on your do-not-touch list include: tributyltin, bisphenol A, diethylhexylphthalate, and perfluorooctanoate.
Also, eat organic foods whenever possible. These do not use pesticides.
Avoid storing food or water in plastics. Choose stainless steel or glass instead.
Lastly, some of the legitimate detox regimens can help remove toxins that accumulate in body tissues, especially fat tissue. You can find more information about these regimens in the February 2013 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you haven’t become a subscriber yet, get started today.
3. Molecular Endocrinology August 1, 2009 vol. 23 no. 8 1127-1134
4. Harley KG, Aguilar Schall R, Chevrier J, Tyler K, Aguirre H, Bradman A, Holland NT, Lustig RH, Calafat AM, Eskenazi B. Environ Health Perspect (): .doi:10.1289/ehp.1205548