BPA, Phthalates May Increase Risk of Obesity and Diabetes: Group Warns

New evidence appears to strengthen the link between hormone-disrupting chemicals found in many consumer products and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, supporting the findings of other recent studies. 

In a scientific statement released this week, titled “Chemical Exposure Linked to Rising Diabetes, Obesity Risk”, the Endocrine Society warned that emerging evidence links chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates to two of the biggest public health problems in the U.S., obesity and diabetes.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen. Currently BPA is found in the lining of canned foods, plastic bottles, food storage containers and retail store receipts. It was banned from being used in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012, amid health concerns.

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Phthalates are industrial chemicals often found in consumer products, including plastic, detergents, cosmetics and other personal care products. They are especially of concern because they are endocrine disruptors, substances that can alter the function of important hormones, including lowering testosterone and affecting estrogen and thyroid hormones.

International researchers warn that there is emerging and mounting evidence linking the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to health issues, suggesting that regulators take actions to reduce exposure to humans.

The Endocrine Society experts addressed the issues at the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM4) in Geneva, Switzerland. The ICCM4 is a global meeting to address the importance of using scientific approaches to limit health risks of EDC exposure.

“The evidence is more definitive than ever before – EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health,” said Andrea C. Gore, Professor and Vice Chair of Pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the statement. “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.”

Approximately 35% of American adults are obese and more than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Society’s Endocrine Facts and Figures report. Other studies have linked EDC exposure to infertility, cancer, neurological issues, low IQ in children and other disorders.

EDCs are problematic to humans because they mimic, block or interfere with the body’s natural hormones, including estrogen, “by hijacking the body’s chemical messengers,” and changing how cells grow and develop.

Endocrine Disruptor Health Concerns

Researchers say EDCs pose a threat to unborn children who are exposed in utero. Animal studies have shown even very small amounts during the prenatal period can trigger obesity later in life, including a 2013 study that showed low exposures of BPA may be harmful to humans, causing polycystic ovarian syndrome, immune response to allergens, and behavioral problems at levels 10 to 40 times lower than the current low dose threshold.

Other research shows EDCs directly target beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, fat and liver cells, which can lead to insulin resistance and risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

The Society warns of the growing problem and calls for more research to directly link cause-and-effect relationships between EDCs and health conditions, and regulation of the chemicals that will be used in human consumption, even at low doses.

They also call upon “green chemists” to create products that test and eliminate potential EDCs as well as education for the public and policy makers to keep the chemicals out of food, water and air. However, even BPA free and alternative chemicals may be just as harmful in human development.

“Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during early development can have long-lasting, even permanent consequences,” said Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Liege in Belgium. “The science is clear and it’s time for policymakers to take this wealth of evidence into account as they develop legislation.”

EDCs are so common that nearly every person on Earth has some level of EDCs in their body. Estimates show EDC exposure likely costs the European Union $209 billion a year in actual health care expenses and lost earnings potential. The ICCM4 meeting in Geneva calls on recognizing EDCs as an international problem.

“It is clear we need to take action to minimize further exposure,” Gore said. “With more chemicals being introduced into the marketplace all the time, better safety testing is needed to identify new EDCs and ensure they are kept out of household goods.”

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