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Are chemicals added to your breakfast cereal and other foods making you fat? Researchers from Cedars-Sinai are saying, “Yes.” Many have suspected that obesity could be linked to food preservatives, but until now, no one had confirmed this theory.

The Obesity Epidemic

For years, people have talked about the “obesity epidemic.” The percentage of obese children has tripled since the 1970s. Two out of every three adults are either overweight or obese. Since obesity is linked to so many serious health issues, learning the underlying reasons for this alarming trend is critical.

Hormones, Your Appetite, and Obesity

A new study finds that everyday chemicals interfere with the hormones that tell you when you’ve eaten enough. Endocrine suppressing chemicals (EDCs) interfere with “I’m full” signals sent to the brain by the digestive system. When the “I’m full” signal isn’t sent when it should be, people continue to eat. This appears to be a direct link to the obesity trend throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Cedars-Sinai researchers developed a revolutionary platform and protocol that overcame obstacles previously encountered by other researchers attempting to test the effects of endocrine disruptors on humans. The endocrine system refers to all of the glands that secrete the hormones controlling many of the body’s systems, essential for good health. When the normal function of these hormones is disrupted or interfered with, there are many possible repercussions, including obesity.

Chemicals and Health

There are more than 80,000 chemicals registered for use in America. The Cedars-Sinai researchers tested three common chemicals:

  • BHT (butylhydroxytoluene): an antioxidant used as a food preservative in breakfast cereals and many other foods
  • PFOA (perfuorooctanoic acid): used in carpeting, some types of cookware and other products
  • TBT (tributyltin): found in paints and seafood

All three chemicals proved detrimental to the body, but BHT was responsible for some of the worst negative effects. The use of human stem cells and tissues in this landmark study documented for the first time how those chemicals disrupted gut-to-brain signals, damaging people’s hormonal systems and influencing the obesity epidemic. Findings suggest even unborn babies could be compromised.

These new testing methods have tremendous implications for the future. It’s possible these new techniques could provide a safe, cost-effective way to test thousands of both existing and new chemicals, evaluating their effects on human health. Future benefits could extend far beyond the obesity epidemic.