Are Toxic Chemicals Making Us Fat?

How concerned should we all be about toxic chemicals like BPA (bisphenol-A)? The answer? Very, especially since there are clear ways to reduce exposure that don’t require radically changing your lifestyle. Here are some tips to avoid these potentially harmful toxins.

Too Close to Home. While you may never of heard of phthalates—a family of chemicals used to make plastics flexible—new evidence linking these and other so-called “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals with obesity has been growing. In fact, researchers have taken to calling many of these substances obesogens (obesity-promoting chemicals).

You’ll recall that about a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to investigate potential risks from low doses of BPA (bisphenol-A), while advocating for BPA-free can linings. BPA is a chemical used to harden plastics. Cancer and adult-onset diabetes are just two health issues linked to trace BPA exposure, according to a recent post by US Recall News, “BPA Safety Still Debated, Despite Strong Evidence of Dangers.

In a report by Glamour magazine, the issue of potentially toxic chemicals is presented as a new toxic threat for women, specifically because BPA, a chemical scientists had intended to use as a synthetic estrogen drug, disrupts hormones. This is worrisome for women of reproductive age, especially since a study presented this week at an annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies reported that babies born to mothers exposed to BPA are more likely to suffer wheezing.

Recognizing the temptation to simply ignore these findings, Glamour asked, rhetorically, how concerned should we all be? The answer? Very, especially since there are clear ways to reduce exposure that don’t require radically changing your lifestyle. Here are some tips to avoid these potentially harmful, toxic chemicals:

1. Heating and storing food. Use a glass or ceramic bowl to heat foods and drinks in the microwave, rather than plastic, just to be on the safe side, since some plastics, even those labeled microwave-safe, may leach compounds into foods when heated.

2. Use safe containers for storage. Look for numbers 2, 4, and 5 on containers. Most name-brand food-storage containers are made of these stable plastics, including high-density polyethylene (#2), low-density polyethylene (#4), or polypropylene (#5).

3. Don’t reuse if you see these digits: #1, #3, or #6. Water, soda, and juice bottles are usually made from #1, or polyethylene terephthalate ethylene. Their shape can make them tough to clean thoroughly, which could allow bacteria to thrive inside. There’s some evidence that styrene, a toxic chemical, may leach from Styrofoam containers, made with #6 polystyrene containers. Environmentalists also warn that reusing #3 polyvinyl chloride containers, such as peanut butter jars, may be risky, too.

4. Beware of polycarbonates. Water bottles, pitchers, and other hard, clear, shatterproof food containers with a “PC” or a #7 on the bottom should be replaced. Polycarbonates contain BPA, linked in animal studies with cancer, miscarriages, and obesity. Many countries now ban the sale of baby bottles containing BPA, and plenty of BPA-free products, such as shatterproof water bottles, are now on the market. Newer types of polycarbonate are BPA-free but have not been fully tested for other leaching properties. The best option for drinking-water bottles may be stainless steel types.

5. Eat well and exercise. Glamour advises its readers to stay as healthy as possible since a healthy immune system is ultimately the best defense against toxins. When it comes to diet, they suggest buying fresh produce, free of packaging if possible. And if you’re buying produce with edible skin, opt for an organic variety.

Unfortunately, BPA is found in many everyday household items, not just food packaging. Read Glamour’s full report, “The New Toxic Threats to Women’s Health,” for even more safety tips.

Sources:, US Recall News, Instant Health Answers, Conquering Heart Attack & Stroke

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest