Skip Your Wheaties?
Can chemical additives in breakfast cereals and other everyday products help make you obese? Growing evidence from animal experiments suggests the answer may be “yes,” but confirming these findings in humans has been daunting.
Now, Cedars-Sinai investigators are developing a new protocol for determining the effects on humans of chemicals called “endocrine disruptors.” They are testing three compounds that are all around us in daily life (see sidebar). While previous research has shown that these chemicals can upset hormone systems in lab animals, this study is the first to use human stem cells and tissues to document how they may disrupt hormones critical to communication between the digestive system and the brain. The findings could potentially help prevent obesity.
The scientists used hormone-producing tissues grown from human stem cells to demonstrate how chronic exposure to these compounds can interfere with signals that let people know when they are full. When this signaling system breaks down, people often continue eating — ingesting unneeded calories and gaining weight.
“We discovered that each of these chemicals damaged hormones that communicate between the gut and the brain,” says Dhruv Sareen, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences and director of the David and Janet Polak Foundation Stem Cell Core Laboratory at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute. “When we tested the three together, the combined stress was more robust.”
Of the three chemicals tested, butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, produced some of the strongest adverse effects.
This study’s chemical-evaluation system eventually may provide a much-needed, safe, and cost-effective method to review the health effects of thousands of chemicals in our environment. But more research is needed to determine whether these products are definitively linked to obesity.
Read Your Labels
These everyday items sometimes contain chemical compounds that could hinder communication between your gut and your brain. More study is needed to determine whether they are detrimental to your health.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is an antioxidant commonly added to foods and other products to keep fats in them from turning rancid. It can be found in cereal, chewing gum, cosmetics, potato chips, salami, and shortening.
PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is a polymer found in microwave popcorn bags, some nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting, and other products.
TBT (tributyltin) is a compound used in paints (mostly for boats/ships) that can make its way into water and seafood. Since it’s also used as a preservative in paper, leather, textiles, and wood as well as a stabilizer in plastics, it can enter our bodies through the skin or by inhaling contaminated air. TBT is banned in most countries, but it has a long half-life and can remain in the environment for up to 30 years.