Preservatives of various forms have been used in foods for thousands of years. Prehistoric men smoked their meats over fires to keep them fresh longer. Ancient Romans and Greeks would pickle their vegetables in a vinegar type solution to keep them from rotting. Preservatives seem fairly innocent at first glance. After all, they play the important role of keeping food fresh and tasty for quite a while.
Unfortunately, scientists recently determined preservatives in food as well as additional popular products disturb human hormones. The alteration of human hormones spurs obesity. These findings were first made after performing experiments on animals. A subsequent study detailed in Nature Communications, shows the findings are also applicable to people.
The Ubiquity of Chemicals
More than 80,000 chemicals registered for use are regularly added to everyday items ranging from food to household cleaners, personal care items and products for lawn care.
For the most part, scientists believe few chemicals pose a threat to human health. The National Toxicology Program website indicates the organization is unsure of the impact of chemicals on health.
The sad truth is a good number of these chemicals are not comprehensively tested due to ethical and cost barriers. Furthermore, there is a health risk posed by exposure to such chemicals.
Details of the Study
Cedars-Sinai investigators made quite the idiosyncratic protocol and platform to test the impact of chemicals on people. Tributyltin (TBT), a compound used in paint, seeps directly into water and accumulates in fish and other sea creatures. The antioxidant Butylhydroxytoluene (BHT) is added to cereals and plenty of other foods. The purpose of BHT is to protect nutrients and fats from spoiling. The polymer Perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) is used in cookware, carpeting and other popular products.
The investigators relied on tissues that generate hormones derived from real human stem cells. The purpose of this approach was to show how consistent exposure to chemicals interferes with signals sent from the digestive system to the brain to make it known the stomach is full of food and/or liquid.
Problems arise when this signaling system does not function as designed. Plenty of people who overeat and gain weight are actually struggling in part because of just such a digestive system malfunction.
Blood samples were taken from adults so reprogramming genes could be applied to convert cells to stem cells described by the medical community as induced pluripotent. The investigators relied on such stem cells to stimulate the growth of the tissue lining the gut known as epithelium tissue.
Furthermore, the scientists also used the neuronal tissues in the brain. These tissues are positioned in the region of the brain that regulates appetite and metabolism. The research crew exposed tissues to BHT, PFOA and TBT separately as well as in combination. The reactions caused by such exposure were then observed by the team of scientists.
Investigators found each chemical harms hormones that interact with the brain and gut. Once the three chemicals were tested in unison, the aggregate stress was extremely powerful.
BHT caused some of the most damaging effects of all the chemicals. The researchers determined chemicals altered networks responsible for preparing signaling hormones to maintain their structure and be moved on out of cells. Such networks were rendered ineffective.
The investigators also determined chemicals altered mitochondria. Such cell structures convert oxygen and food to energy in order to speed up the body’s metabolic rate. The chemical damage took place in young cells in the earliest stages of development. This means the findings show defective hormone systems have the potential to impact pregnant women as well as their offspring.
Scientists have found the effects of endocrine disruptors have the potential to be transmitted to subsequent generations in animals yet this has not yet proven to be the case in human beings.
Why the Study Matters
The new testing system used in the study might offer a low-cost, completely safe means of assessing the health ramifications of additional chemicals. Some scientists have performed lab experiments that have determined the compounds can alter hormone systems of animals.
The study detailed above is also widely heralded for the fact that it is the first to use human pluripotent stem tissues along with cells to display the manner in which compounds can alter hormones that signal between the brain and gut and ward off obesity. The findings improve our understanding of how endocrine disruptors have the potential to damage the hormonal systems.
Furthermore, the findings are also important as they help explain the rapid increase in obesity amongst those living in some first world countries like the United States.
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