Water containers and stem cells are words we would not expect to find together, but truth being stranger than fiction, America has an obesity epidemic and it may be due to chemicals messing with our stem cells. As someone who struggled with weight as a kid, lost it in adolescence, and then regained a bunch when I reached “middle age”, and then lost a bunch through much hard work and lifestyle change, this is a subject near and dear to my personal experience. What’s interesting to me as a physician scientist is the casual observation that our weight gain can’t all be due to decreased activity and bad food. Sure, as a country, our move to the burbs has caused us to walk less. Most kids of my generation walked to school, which is uncommon now. In addition, we buy fast food today that’s filled with all sorts of nasty junk. However, things like preservatives and fast food were also a big part of my childhood, when seeing very obese people was a rarity (my grandmother was one). When I do the math in my head, there’s something intrinsically wrong with the calculus of less activity/bad food=severe obesity. Some recent research may explain why that equation seems a bit off. The research looks at BPA and BADGE, both chemicals used in canned food liners as well as baby bottles, bottled water containers, soda cans, etc… To review, your body has stem cells in almost every tissue that constantly act to replace and replenish dead or worn out cells. Many of these are mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). So if you go for a hard work-out at the gym, your muscle cells get ripped up, and then replaced in greater number by MSCs that turn into more muscle cells (which give you bigger muscles). What if a chemical in our food supply and daily life were preventing this normal repair cycle and instead flipped a switch on stem cells so that they turned into something else? In particular, BPA and BADGE can cause MSCs to be diverted from normally turning into muscle, bone, and cartilage cells, and instead direct them to becoming more fat cells. In addition, the concentrations of BPA and BADGE that do this are consistent with the concentrations found in our bodies. This class of toxic chemicals is called “obesogens”. The author of the study, has a quote to sum it up, “What I don’t want to argue is that obesogen exposure dooms you to being fat,” Blumberg says. “It dooms you to have to work harder to not be fat, though.” In addition, these obesogen chemicals aren’t limited to just BADGE and BPA, they also include the FDA approved diabetes drugs Avandia and Actos as well as MSG, pesticides, and PVC plastics (the water pipes in your house may be made of PVC). In addition, the link between obesity and obesogens goes even deeper, as exposure of the developing fetus to these chemicals may cause a lifetime struggle with obesity. One of these, TBT, has been leeching from marine paint since the 1970’s. The upshot? All I can say is, “yikes”! For those of you who have the right genetics to be sensitive to these chemicals, your struggle with weight may require a serious work out regime, better food, and a BPA and BADGE detox. How do you decrease your BPA and BADGE exposure?
- Avoid plastic water bottles-go for the glass bottles instead
- Avoid canned foods
- Avoid plastic food containers and utensils
- Avoid canned drinks (they are lined with BPA)
- Avoid dental sealants which contain BPA or BADGE
BTW, this may have to be number 11 in the top ten ways to improve your stem cells!