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From CHE Blog (post by Sarah Howard):

The UK nonprofit organization CHEM Trust (Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust) just released a report on the links between chemicals and diabetes/obesity. Studies published in recent years provide compelling evidence that human chemical contamination can play a part in both conditions. The report concludes that the chemicals that we accumulate throughout life, via our everyday lifestyles, is likely to contribute to these modern epidemics. This is the same conclusion reached by the National Toxicology Program’s review of the scientific evidence on chemicals and diabetes/obesity, published last month.

The CHEM Trust report, entitled Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, is written by two of the world’s leading experts: Professor Miquel Porta, MD, MPH, PhD, of Spain and Professor Duk-Hee Lee, MD, PhD, of South Korea.

The report focuses on endocrine disrupting chemicals in both obesity and diabetes. Exposures to these chemicals in the womb, at other critical periods of life, and in adulthood may be linked to obesity and disruption of the normal functioning of insulin in later life. Evidence of the role of hormone disrupting chemicals comes from both laboratory studies and studies on human populations.

In one example, the report describes a study from the general US population that found that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in fatty tissue, even more than the fat itself, plays a critical role in the development of diabetes. People who were obese did not have an increased risk of diabetes if their levels of POPs were low. People who were thin did have a higher risk of diabetes if their POP levels were higher. And those with higher POP levels who were also obese had the highest diabetes risk of all.

The chemicals suspected of increasing weight gain or diabetes in humans include a variety of chemicals, including numerous POPs, arsenic, BPA, phthalates, pesticides (including atrazine, organophosphorous and organochlorine pesticides), brominated flame retardants, metals (including cadmium, mercury, organotins), and more. Many of these are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and have the ability to disrupt our natural hormones which control both fat storage and blood sugar regulation, and hence can play a role in obesity and diabetes.

Professor Miquel Porta stated, “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying. The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable. We must encourage new policies that help minimize human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the fetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk.

Elizabeth Salter Green, CHEM Trust Director stated, “If exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals is programming us to be fat, it is high time that public health policy takes into account cutting edge science. Obesity and diabetes are examples of the adverse health trends linked with endocrine disruption which need to be urgently addressed. We are talking about prevention, and in this time of financial squeeze, anything that can help with prevention is a good idea. CHEM Trust is calling for the UK Government and the EU to urgently identify hormone disruptors to ensure that chemicals suspected of playing a role in diabetes and obesity are substituted with safer alternatives.”

Summary of the report’s conclusions

  • Studies suggest that exposure to certain chemicals in the environment can play an important role in obesity and diabetes. The chemicals implicated include some to which the general population are exposed on a daily basis.
  • Substantial evidence exists to consider exposure to EDCs with estrogenic activity as a risk factor for the etiology of obesity and obesity-related metabolic dysfunction.
  • Evidence suggesting a relationship between human contamination with environmental chemicals and the risk of diabetes has existed for more than 15 years, with the volume and strength of evidence becoming particularly persuasive since 2006.
  • Obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, and chemicals that accumulate in body fat (e.g., POPs) may play a role in the causal relationship between obesity and diabetes.
  • Many of the chemicals that can cause weight gain and related metabolic effects have endocrine disrupting properties.
  • Embryonic, fetal, and infantile stages may be especially vulnerable to obesity from relatively low doses of EDCs. Nonetheless, the risk of obesity due to obesogenic pollutants can also increase during adolescence and adulthood.

Summary of the report’s recommendations

  • Action to reduce exposures to such chemicals is warranted on a precautionary basis, and is likely to be cost-effective.
  • National governments and the EU need to urgently put forward mechanisms to identify EDCs to ensure that currently used chemicals suspected of playing a role in obesity and diabetes are substituted with safer alternatives.
  • Health professionals, citizens’ organisations, companies, authorities and society at large need to be better informed of the role that chemical exposures may play in causing diabetes and obesity.
  • Individuals, industry, the agricultural sector, dieticians and the medical professions all have roles to play in reducing exposures both in the home and in occupational settings.
  • Personal changes in lifestyle are certainly important for the prevention of obesity and diabetes, but this should not obscure the need for government policies within and outside the health sector to decrease human exposure to obesogenic and diabetogenic environmental compounds.
  • As many of the chemicals implicated widely contaminate the animal and human food chains and some are also released from some food containers, dietary interventions ignoring the presence of contaminants in food may hamper the expected beneficial effects of dietary recommendations.
  • In order to protect fetuses and newborn babies, specific advice is needed for pregnant women and midwives regarding EDCs in the diet and in consumer products used by pregnant women and/or babies.
  • Public health policies, including those seeking to reduce exposure to suspect chemicals, need to be implemented swiftly. To preserve quality of life, prevention in both cases is vastly preferable to treatment.
  • Evidence for the association between exposure to EDCs and obesity should lead to a paradigm shift in how to tackle obesity. The focus should be broadened from one based on individual lifestyle, diagnosis and treatment to one that includes population prevention measures.
  • Population-based biomonitoring must be strengthened to provide a better understanding of the extent of human contamination by environmental obesogens and diabetogens in the general population.
  • Progress is also needed in identifying the sources of exposure (e.g., which food products, which consumer products). Further research is particularly warranted on the role that food additives, contaminants in animal feed and human food, and packaging may play in obesity and diabetes.
  • Screens and tests to identify chemicals that can impact on obesity and diabetes should be developed, and certain chemicals should be required to undergo such testing.
  • More attention should be given to protecting populations in the developing world from exposure to environmental pollutants, including that arising from electronic waste, food contamination, air pollution and the erroneous use of certain pesticides.

CHEM Trust’s goal is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals. They have published previous reports on chemicals and the developing brain, breast cancer, reproductive health, and more.

This report as well as others are available at the CHEM Trust website.

Visit the CHE Blog.

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From Big Think Blog:

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last two weeks, pink slime has become the safe food movement’s equivalent of the Kony 2012 campaign. Over 200,000 people have signed an online petition to ban the use of what the food industry calls “lean beef trimmings” in school lunches. Larger questions have been raised about why it has taken consumer advocates and government watchdogs so long to catch on.

After all, haven’t we seen this movie before?

106 years ago Upton Sinclair blew the whistle on the Chicago stockyards meatpacking industry in his famous muckraking novel The Jungle. I have quoted a representative, nausea-inducing passage from the book below, but here is a quick tease:

These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.

These reports shocked an incredulous nation. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, initially concluded that Sinclair must be “a crackpot.” Yet subsequent investigation confirmed Sinclair’s reporting (although claims that workers who fell into rendering vats were ground into lard were not officially substantiated). Public outcry led to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and ultimately the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

And yet, consumer protection requires vigilant oversight, and that is exactly what critics say was lacking during the administration of George H.W. Bush, when low-grade ammonia-treated “lean beef trimmings” previously reserved for pet food were declared safe for human consumption. According to The Daily, health concerns were muted by JoAnn Smith, Undersecretary of the USDA.

Then for the next two decades, apparently, Smith’s successors at the USDA were out to lunch.

What’s the Significance?

Pink slime is everywhere. It’s sold in grocery stores and served in school lunches, meaning most of us have probably consumed it at some point in our lives. The government purchased 7 million pounds of pink slime for school lunches just last year. While the USDA announced it would let schools opt out this week, food administrators and consumers alike have found pink slime to be so ubiquitous that it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some experts estimate it can be found in up to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in grocery stores.

In other words, we know how the sausage is made. We don’t like how it is made, but we don’t know how to avoid it. That is because you will never see packaged meat in the grocery store labeled “pink slime.”

How Can I Avoid Pink Slime In Meat?

Look for meat that is labelled “USDA Organic” and shop at stores such as WholeFoods and Costco that have guaranteed their products don’t contain pink slime. Your other choices are to go vegetarian, or grind your own meat (or watch a butcher do it for you).

More.

We just discovered ToxicyTracker, a promising new blog with a focus on environmental health in Minnesota.  We have added ToxicyTracker to our links and look forward to following its posts.

The latest post is an interview with Dr. Deb Swackhamer, about shaping chemical policy in Minnesota.

Here’s a sample:

In this social media class, I’ve been scanning who out there is talking about chemical policy reform.  It’s a lot of concerned mothers and very involved advocacy groups. How do we get more every day citizens talking about the issue?

It’s a delicate balance because one of the only ways to get people’s attention is to make it relevant to their life.  Moms have kind of done that because of the whole “Oh my god, there’s BPA in baby bottles and teethers.”  So moms got it right away because of their kids.  You can over-alarm people, so it’s a difficult line to walk – to educate people about this issue but not have them walk away totally depressed or freaked out.  Like we do with any communications, we have to be careful how we communicate this.  It has to be at the right level of “This is what we know. This is what we don’t know. This is why we care about this.”

I don’t know why this issue is so hidden.  I have been surprised at how few people would actually say this is an important issue but when you explain it to them, they’re amazed.  I think the vast majority of people really do think, “Well we have the Clean Water Act. We have the Safe Drinking Water Act.  We have the Safe Air Act.  We have all sorts of things. So these chemicals must be at safe levels in the environment.”  I think part of it is that people simply think the government is protecting them.  And I’m not bad-mouthing the government.  We just don’t have the right tools to deal with this avalanche of chemicals.

The other thing is that I talk to people and people will say, “Chemicals – oh, I hated chemistry in high school. I don’t like chemistry.” They turn off at the word “chemistry.” Similarly, I don’t know economics, so when they start to talk about the forecast or hedge funds, I turn off.  So, I think for a lot of society, this is something they’re just not interested in talking about. They can’t pronounce them. They don’t understand them. They hated chemistry in high school. End of story.  So I think there’s a social barrier to getting the point across.

More.

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