Good hygiene is meant to keep germs out of the body, but a new study reveals it may also be keeping fat in.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have identified 11 chemicals in common plastic products like shampoo bottles that studies have shown may contribute to weight gain by impairing the metabolic process.
Almost any type of plastic container may contain such substances, referred to as metabolism-disrupting chemicals (MDCs) in the study. Scientists detected them in about one-third of the products they analyzed, including bottles of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, trash can liners, freezer bags, kitchen sponges and water bottles.
The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
There can be hundreds of unique chemical compounds used to make these goods, much of which have not been studied extensively, if at all. However, researchers were able to pluck 11 out of 34 “everyday products” that have been linked to weight gain in other studies.
“Our experiments show that ordinary plastic products contain a mix of substances that can be a relevant and underestimated factor behind overweight and obesity,” said Martin Wagner, associate professor and one of the study’s authors.
Their study adds to the growing body of evidence that under-studied chemicals used to make plastic packaging of all varieties are leaching and thus absorbed by consumers. In some tests, related chemicals have also been shown to interfere with hormones in the body, cause miscarriage and be linked to some diseases, including birth defects and cancer.
Now, they’re being linked to fat cell development, too.
The 11 substances indicated in Wagner’s study had the effect of reprogramming stem cells to become fat cells, which then multiplied, introducing more fat.
Researchers noted one discrepancy in their findings: only some of the chemicals they identified were known to impact metabolism, while many more of them appeared to boost fat cell growth — indicating that there may be other, unidentified chemicals in the products that have the same effect.
“It’s very likely that it is not the usual suspects, such as Bisphenol A, causing these metabolic disturbances,” said study co-author Johannes Völker. “This means that other plastic chemicals than the ones we already know could be contributing to overweight and obesity.”
Their findings suggest that unregulated chemicals in common household products may be a latent factor in rising obesity rates globally.
“Our study demonstrates that daily use plastics contain potent mixtures of MDCs and can, therefore, be a relevant yet underestimated environmental factor contributing to obesity,” the authors wrote.
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