High-calorie lattes, a bowl of ice cream before bed—we all know these guilty pleasures will wind up thickening our hips if we overindulge. But take calories out of the equation and you may be surprised to learn another reason people have been struggling to lose weight over the last several decades. Hint: Think shower curtains, not cream puffs.
Emerging research from some of the country's leading obesity experts is identifying a compound found in vinyl as a potent fat promoter. The latest evidence is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, an animal study finding that low doses of the vinyl plastic compound tributyltin (TBT) leads to obesity not just in the person exposed, but also in three generations of offspring.
"The main take-home message is that what we do—how we treat our
own health with respect to diet and chemical exposure—can have effects far beyond effects on us," explains study author Bruce Blumberg, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and developmental and cell biology at University of California–Irvine. "For example, if a pregnant woman is exposed to an endocrine-disrupting chemical such as TBT, known to have transgenerational effects, then this might influence her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. A very sobering thought indeed."
TBT is tagged as an obesogen, one of the 20 or so compounds—usually hormone-disrupting chemicals—identified as either increasing the number of fat cells or promoting fat storage in cells.
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Certainly, there is some exposure from seafood and from household dust derived from vinyl products and from paints containing antifungal
Not just a vinyl thing
In 2012, Blumberg's team found that triflumizole, a common fungicide used on nonorganic lettuce, harbors fat-promoting properties. Not exactly what you're looking for when you order a salad. Seafood is another exposure point, since TBT was traditionally used in ships' paint to halt the growth of marine organisms on the hull. It's commonly added to paints touting antifungal properties, too.
Blumberg also recently identified another fat-promoting compound called bisphenol A diglycidyl ether, or BADGE, a compound used to create BPA, the chemical lining used in many canned foods and coating used on thermal cash-register receipts.
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Nonstick chemicals used in carpeting as stain-repellents and in cookware have also been shown to promote fat growth, as have more obvious things like too much fructose.
Go on a vinyl-free diet
The latest study shows an increase in not just body weight, but also in dangerous fat surrounding organs. The levels of vinyl used were similar to what humans experience in dust and the diet, so eliminating our exposure could help prevent obesity now and for generations to come.
1. Rethink your shower curtain. A report from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice found TBT and other relative chemicals in the organotin family in every vinyl shower curtain tested.
Instead of those stinky, "new plastic"–smelling vinyl shower curtains, opt for hemp curtains that are naturally mold and mildew resistant. If you do still opt for plastic shower curtains, make sure they are vinyl free.
2. Step up your floor plan. Time to remodel? Instead of reaching for vinyl flooring (sometimes referred to as laminate), search for sustainable wood, bamboo, cork, or real linoleum. An added bonus? Vinyl floors sometimes contain lead, so by avoiding this type of flooring, you'll be dodging another bullet. Be sure to make routine cleaning with a HEPA-enabled vacuum a priority to lower TBT levels in household dust.
3. Forget fake leather. Fake leather purses are typically made of vinyl, too. Even those shiny decals on children's book bags are vinyl based. Choose more natural, sustainable fabrics like organic cotton.