Chemical plasticizers in plastics cause massive excess weight

Chemical plasticizers in plastics cause massive excess weight

Fat through plasticizers - changes in the hormone balance lead to obesity
Plasticizers such as phthalates contained in plastics can be absorbed through the skin or through food and significantly impair the hormonal system. The plasticizers have long been suspected of influencing body weight, but "the exact relationships and mechanisms have so far been unclear," according to the latest release from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig. For the phthalate DEHP, researchers at the UFZ have now identified the metabolic pathway that causes weight gain in cooperation with scientists from the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) Obesity Diseases of the University and the University Hospital Leipzig. The scientists published their results in the specialist journal “PLOS ONE”.

According to the researchers, there are "many causes for the development of obesity", whereby "in addition to wrong eating habits and lack of exercise, genetic factors certainly play a role". However, the impact of certain environmental pollutants should not be underestimated. For example, phthalates could be responsible for the development of obesity. Because, according to Professor Martin von Bergen, head of the Department of Molecular Systems Biology at the UFZ, "epidemiological studies have already shown serious connections between increased phthalate concentrations in the human body and the development of obesity." UFZ expert the current study.

Plasticizers can pass from the packaging to food
According to the researchers, almost every second adult in Germany is overweight and even in children and adolescents around 15 percent are overweight. "The numbers are alarming because with every kilo that is too much, the health risk for cardiovascular diseases, joint damage, chronic inflammation and cancer increases," emphasizes Professor Martin von Bergen. In addition, the number of people with overweight is increasing steadily worldwide. The impact plasticizers have on development is still unclear. Basically, these are contained in plastics to make them soft, pliable or stretchy. However, the phthalates can “escape from the material under certain conditions and be absorbed into our bodies through food,” warn the researchers. In the case of food packaging, for example, phthalates would pass into fatty products, such as cheese or sausage.

Significant weight gain and changed metabolism
So far, what effect plasticizers have in the organism and how they can influence body weight remains largely unclear. The scientists at UFZ and IFB have therefore used mice to investigate the effect of the plasticizer DEHP. Dr. In experiments at the University of Leipzig, Nora Klöting and Professor Matthias Blüher from the IFB had mice absorb the phthalate DEHP in their drinking water. The animals then gained significant weight, with “this was especially the case for the female animals,” the researchers report. At the UFZ, blood samples of the mice were examined with a focus on characterizing the metabolic products in the blood. The researchers were able to determine "that the proportion of unsaturated fatty acids in the blood under the influence of phthalate increased and that the glucose metabolism was disrupted," the UFZ said. In addition, "the composition of receptors in the blood, which are important for the overall metabolism and can lead to a change in the metabolism," had changed.

Intervention in the hormonal balance
The scientists also report that some metabolic products that are formed by the adipose tissue are also active as messenger substances and control the functions in other organs. "However, it has not yet been finally clarified how the different effects of phthalates affect each other's metabolism and ultimately lead to weight gain," emphasizes Professor Martin von Bergen. What is certain, however, is that phthalates obviously have a massive impact on the hormone balance. "Even in low concentrations, they lead to significant changes, such as weight gain," explains von Bergen.

Basic research on risk assessment
In further studies, the scientists at the UFZ, the university and the university hospital in Leipzig plan to further investigate the influence of phthalates on the metabolism. The effect of plasticizers on the development of early childhood diseases is also examined by Professor Martin von Bergen together with UFZ colleagues from the Department of Environmental Immunology as part of the LiNA mother-child study. The molecular biologist emphasizes that "solid basic research" is the goal of her work. The results could "then help the authorities responsible for risk assessment of chemicals at German and European level to make their assessments," said Professor Martin von Bergen. (fp)

Author and source information

Video: Air Pollution 101. National Geographic