Chemicals in consumer products may cause obesity, fatty liver diseases

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In a new study, researchers found chemical compounds found in many consumer products could be major contributors to the onset of lipid-related diseases, such as obesity, in humans.

The research was conducted by a team at Baylor University.

Until recently, scientists thought diseases such as obesity and fatty liver resulted from anomalies in the metabolism of lipids triggered by excessive energy intake, fat consumption, and lack of physical activity.

But the current study highlights the existence of chemical compounds people are exposed to via a variety of consumer products. These can lead to lipid-related metabolic diseases and weight gain.

The team has been conducting experiments to determine whether their suspicion that obesogens—specific chemical compounds found to disrupt normal metabolic processes—promoted a dysregulation of lipid profiles in the human liver.

While poor nutrition and lack of exercise are known contributors to obesity, much attention has emerged regarding the potential effects of some chemical compounds to trigger lipid-related diseases.

Exposures to obesogens—particularly in early development in life—were found to disrupt normal metabolic processes and increase susceptibility to weight gain across the lifespan.

As of the year 2000, there were an estimated 100,000 commercially available chemicals around the world.

Two decades later, that amount has more than tripled, with approximately 350,000 chemicals being available.

Contributing chemicals to the diseases may be found in cigarette smoke, air pollution, pesticides, fungicides, flame retardants and a certain class of chemicals used in many consumer products to make them softer.

Other contributors widely used in the past may have been industrial chemicals in paints, cements, fluorescent light ballast, sealants, and adhesives.

For the study, the team used well-established techniques in the field of metabolomics and molecular toxicology to test whether the proportion of lipids related to diseases, such as obesity, was modified upon exposure to environmental obesogens—and if so, to what extent the lipid profile changed.

Additionally, they used a technique called fluorescence microscopy to investigate whether environmentally relevant concentrations of the tested compounds had the ability to induce fat accumulation in liver tissue.

They found that the production of diglycerides and triglycerides increased significantly, while other less harmful lipids were found in smaller proportions.

Another novel finding was that those effects were observed in cells exposed to chemical concentrations that are often seen in the environment and to which people are exposed constantly.

The team says chemical compounds may trigger and/or contribute to the development of lipid-related diseases that deserves extensive research in the future.

The lead author of the study is Ramon Lavado, Ph.D., an assistant professor of environmental science at Baylor.

The study is published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.

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