Hidden calories may have taken on a whole new meaning. Emerging evidence suggests that a more shocking reason than over-nourishment and sedentary lifestyle could be contributing to weight problems: “Chemical calories” lurking in everyday beauty products and plastic containers could be making us pack on pounds.
Over the past few years, researchers have found that chemicals called phthalates found in approximately 70 percent of cosmetic products (like shampoo, lotions and soaps) could be endocrine disruptors, which means they might mimic our hormones and mess with the hormone-producing glands intricately tied to weight and metabolic disorders.
Studies on animals revealed that these chemicals have anti-testosterone capacity that has been linked to obesity. They have also been found to mimic the effects of estrogen, which have been linked to weight gain and early puberty in females. Further research on humans linked phthalates with poor semen quality in men, and with subtle alterations in the reproductive organs of male babies as well.
A recent study on PLoS One suggests another chemical, Bisphenol-A (BPA), widely found in polycarbonate plastic (indicated with a number ‘7’ printed on the base of plastic water bottles and even baby bottles) can cause the pancreas to secrete excess insulin – a hormone that controls the breakdown of carbs and fat – and trick fat cells into taking in more fat. So basically, when you eat or drink something with trace amounts of BPA, your body thinks it is eating more than you really are. The higher your insulin levels, the more likely you are to gain weight over time and increase your likelihood for diseases like diabetes.
Pregnant women should be more cautious of this chemical as the foetus is not only exposed to BPA, but also to higher levels of insulin from the mother. This could affect the growth and development of the unborn baby, and even have potential health consequences later on in life.
FREAK OUT FACTOR: LOW
Just before you freak out, consider this: Research into the effect of the chemical calorie trap is still in its early days. Results are at best preliminary, and its contribution likely only a small piece of the obesity epidemic puzzle. In any case, tossing out everything from majority of your beauty products to household cleansers to canned food (and God knows what other daily products with unrecognised chemicals) would be largely impractical.
However, minimizing our long term cumulative toxin exposure would probably benefit both our health and our children’s health in general. So read your beauty and plastic labels carefully, buy organic food to reduce your toxin intake, and trade out your harsh bathtub cleaner for a homemade vinegar mixture if you can.
But if you’re watching your weight, ditching your daily lather won’t replace a healthy diet and regular trips to the gym!
– By Claudia Lin