Obesity and diabetes are two of the heaviest burdens on the healthcare system in the United States, with one-third of the population being obese while about 10% suffer from diabetes.
A variety of factors cause these conditions including sedentary workplaces, poor lifestyle choices, and the high preference of fast food. In urban regions, people don’t have access to fresh vegetables and fruits, and the population has a high consumption of meat and high-protein foods.
Researchers now question whether environmental factors also account for the obesity and diabetes epidemic, with studies showing that obesity is associated with air pollution, and that some chemicals in the foods disrupt the endocrine system. Known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. In this regard, the Endocrine Society (ES) recently released a statement that emphasizes the harmful effects of EDCs, and their impact in the development of diabetes and obesity.
“The evidence is more definitive than ever before — EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health,” Andrea Gore, professor and Vacek Chair of Pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin, said in the press release. “Hundreds of studies are pointing to the same conclusion, whether they are long-term epidemiological studies in human, basic research in animals and cells, or research into groups of people with known occupational exposure to specific chemicals.”
The ES statement was developed based on research evidence from 2009, when studies showed that EDCs lead to an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, diabetes, hormone-related cancers infertility, and neurological problems, among other health problems. However, the causal relationship between EDCs and the development of these conditions remains unknown.
EDCs comprise dioxin compounds, pharmaceutical chemicals, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls and plasticizers —particularly, BPA (bisphenol A). These EDC’s are found in everyday products such as food, metal cans, plastic bottles, toys, detergents, and cosmetics. The NIH says that when EDCs are inside the body, they can mimic hormones (estrogen, androgens, and thyroid hormones) and block the natural ones from binding.
“Endocrine-disrupting chemicals contribute to health problems by mimicking, blocking or otherwise interfering with the body’s natural hormones,” the Endocrine Society states. “By hijacking the body’s chemical messenger, endocrine-disrupting chemicals can alter the way cells develop and grow.”
The ES noted in their statement that some strategies can be used to reduce the exposure to EDCs, and acknowledge the need for more studies examing the relationship between EDCs and illnesses, the need for the chemicals regulation, and the need for an improvement in “green chemists” who create products that can eliminate EDCs.
“It is clear we need to take action to minimize further exposure,” Gore said in the press release. “With more chemicals being introduced into the marketplace all the time, better safety testing is needed to identify new endocrine disrupting chemicals and ensure they are kept out of household goods.”