Saturday, August 25, 2012


"Calorie in-Calorie out" calculations provide the most sensible interpretation about the logic of the uncontrolled over weight problem that is staring at humanity to day with very little hope for reversing the trend in the near future. This theory is strengthened by the prevalence of over weight problem mostly  in affluent countries with high purchasing power and ironically low food prices. Americans seem to be ashamed of them selves when it is routinely projected that majority of the population is over weight as measured by the BMI scale and almost one third are eligible to be called obese! No matter what measures have been taken or to be taken, they do not make any dent on the magnitude of the problem. Scientists and sociologists are equally worried as to the precise reason why some people are vulnerable to putting on weight while others are not. Added to this is the wide spread occurrence of life style disorders like diabetes, CVD, hypertension, kidney ailments etc and one is not sure whether these ailments are the direct outcome of over weight conditions. If most Americans are to day taking statin drugs daily to reduce blood cholesterol levels in order to pre-empt heart related diseases, what has really gone wrong with this society that necessitated such a situation?. What are the reasons responsible for changing the health of a healthy nation till just about 50-60 years ago to the present sad condition? Obviously there may not be one single answer to the above perplexing questions.

Food technologists are blamed for "designing" mouth watering products ignoring the nutrition and health aspects while the processing industry is being hauled up for marketing such products providing no option to the consumer to buy better foods. HFCS, GM ingredients, Soy proteins and a multitude of food additives, all permitted by the responsible governments of the day, are used extensively by the processor and the accusation that these are responsible for the present health crisis may be too far fetched. There are scattered and unsubstantiated study reports implicating one or the other ingredient in developing health problems, mainly through animal studies with very little clinical data support. Similarly role of tras fats and saturated fats in cholesterol elevation in blood, CVD and obesity is based on animal experiments. The orchestrated campaign against salt in foods is also being questioned regarding their relevance and veracity. Ultimately nutrition pundits come around to the view that the best way to lead a healthy life is through eating mixed foods containing calorie yielders as well as protective nutrients and phytochemicals. Here again there is hardly any explanation as to why perfectly healthy humans are affected by these diseases, in spite of great control over their diets? Could there be other factors playing crucial role in    
weight gains?

"Swimming against the tide" is an old saying with succinct connotation and any one daring to do that has to be courageous, confident, well meaning, honest and with lot of self conviction. In the scientific community also, like other fields of human endeavor, there are daring explorers who chart out courses according to their conviction opposite to the stand of a vast majority of their fellow scientists. One may recall that Coppernicus was condemned for his conviction based on his scientific findings that earth is round by the all powerful Church and how he was heralded later as a pioneering astronomer is history.  In the obesity research a new class of scientists is emerging which is seeing beyond the present staid stance that over eating is the cause of this disorder. The established scientific theories are invariably exploited by industry to make money without any regard for the well being of the consumer and one often wonders whether the present obesity conditions are becoming the ideal props on which an industry is peddling health foods to make a fortune. Obviously perpetuating obesity may be a necessity for this industry to flourish.  

A new breed of scientists is emerging who do not accept that food alone is responsible for the over weight and the knowledge about human body development is still incomplete. They are pursuing a new line to unravel the role of man made chemicals in influencing human development. It is not that the role of endocrine system in regulating every human function is unknown but in what way and at what levels the functioning of the hormones is aborted or modified or derailed are still a matter of conjecture. Hormones literally control body growth, sexual functions, reproductive process, mood of the individuals, sleep, hunger, stress, metabolism, pancreas, hypothalamus, adrenal glands, thyroid, pituitary and testes. It is the  endocrine system that determines whether one is male or female, tall or short, hirsute or hairless, lean or heavy and such personal traits.  Obviously any event that can affect their routine and regulated functions can have undesirable consequences. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDS) which have been brought to focus recently are entities which can disrupt the functions of hormonal system with disastrous results as borne by many scientific studies.

Considerable insight has been gained about the occurrence of EDCs in the food consumed to day as well as in the environment where humans live. These include natural hormone like substances in soy bean, hormonal chemicals administered to food animals, plastics of various types, ingredients deployed by the food industry, pesticides, etc and many chemicals identified so far seem to have the ability to mimic hormones like estrogen causing health problems of unimaginable magnitude. They are deduced to be playing an active role in fertility related problems, genital malformation, reduced male birth rates, precocious puberty, miscarriages, behavioral problems, brain abnormalities, impaired immune function, cancers of different type and cardiovascular disease. More alarming is the fact that their effect is more potent on unborn children and newly born ones though some believe they are equally disastrous for adults also.  
Tendency of fish in Thames river in the UK to be more effiminate and decreased population of male fish was attributed to pollution of the water with birth control chemicals. Similarly the abnormal deformed population in Kasargod in Kerala is supposed to be due to the pesticide Endosulfan sprayed on Cashewnut plantations to which the population nearby was exposed. Thus EDC s do exert influence on some functions of hormones in one way or the other.

New investigators pursuing the theory that EDCs will have an influence on obesity also are coming up with new evidences supporting this stand. The fact that many of the EDCs have been safety tested with animals and in vitro studies does not mean that they are totally harmless in human beings. The safety limits for these chemicals arrived at by internationally accepted protocols may hold good still as far as their disease causing potential is concerned. An entirely new approach to the action of EDCs now being pursued presumes that these chemicals even at concentrations below 1 ppb can have potential effect on the development of fat cells as they can hijack the regulatory system that controls body weight. There are many chemicals introduced in the daily lives of human beings and no systematic effort has gone into their impact on obesity. It is an irrefutable fact that phenomenal rise in obesity is matched by rise in manufacture and use of industrial chemicals which may be playing the role as "obesogens". This raises the inevitable question whether human beings will ever be able to avoid over weight problem under such an environment. One can realize the implication of such a situation when apple, most favored nutritious fruit, is known to be laced with at least 12-15 pesticide and other crop protectant chemicals while others like peaches, Bell pepper, Celery, Strawberries, Lettuce, Nectarines, Cherries, Kale etc are also considered as over treated with chemicals. Evidence on the fat storing ability of obesogens is accumulating in recent days, the most impressive study coming from University of California, Irvine where Tributyltin, a fungicide used commonly, was confirmed to be obesogenic in rats. It was found that this chemical activates components in human cells, retinoid X receptors which are necessary for fat cell formation. 

The reported presence of Bis-Phenol A in the urine samples of 93% of Americans and Phthalates in 75% of the population more or less tells the story as to why People in the US are more vulnerable to over weight and obesity. True, over eating and eating of unbalanced foods do contribute but omnipotent presence of EDCs in the foods consumed and the environment they live make it difficult to shed the weight easily under standard weight losing regime. More than 6 billion pounds of BPA and 18 billion pounds of phthalates are produced annually and no wonder a small portion of this, gaining entry into human system, can make the growth dynamics go haywire over a period of time. While BPA is a prominent component of polycarbonate plastics and the widely used epoxy resins used in food packaging, phthalates are part and parcel of many food packings and wrappers, pesticides, toys, PVC pipes, medical supplies etc. Where does the HFCS fit into this obesogen scenario? If these scientists are to be beliefved HFCS plays the role of an obesogen by interfering with the Leptin formation which regulates appetite and consequently increasing the craving for eating for more food.    
The role of obesogens in fat accumulation raises questions about the effectiveness of just diet and exercise in helping people lose pounds and maintain a proper weight. Obesogen research may be in its early stages but surely it is gaining widespread attention among those familiar with problems concerning body weight gain in human beings. Probably at this stage of research it may not be possible to pin point precisely the extent of influence these chemicals exert on the obesity epidemic but what ever has been found so far gives sufficient reasons for alarm. In some of the studies it has been found that obesogens have the ability to target signaling proteins in a developing fetus to make more fat cells. This can be expected to have lifelong consequences because it raises the chance of body fat accumulation as a person ages and making it more difficult to lose excess weight. Even if obesogens do not exert undue influence on adults, it is possible that exposure during pre-birth and early childhood stages can have lasting influence on fat accumulation in the body. It is a matter of speculation whether those born after the widespread production and use of many industrial chemical during the middle of the last millenium were more vulnerable to obesity related fat disorders. The fact that compared to other countries, the US boasts of highest density of obese population and the consumption of industrially processed foods is highest in this country further support the role of obesogenic chemicals in over weight epidemic. 

1 comment:

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