It may sound like a bizarre way to gain weight, but a new study suggests that plastics in shampoo bottles could actually be making people fat.
That’s because scientists have discovered 11 chemicals that can affect our metabolism and contribute to weight gain in everyday products such as drinks bottles, kitchen sponges and hair conditioners.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at 34 different plastic products to see which chemicals they contained.
They found more than 55,000 different chemical components in the products and identified 629 of the substances, 11 of which are known to be metabolism-disrupting chemicals.
‘Our experiments show that ordinary plastic products contain a mix of substances that can be a relevant and underestimated factor behind overweight and obesity,’ said Martin Wagner, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Scientists have discovered 11 chemicals in everyday products such as yoghurt containers, shampoo bottles and kitchen sponges that can contribute to weight gain (stock image)
Chemicals from one third of the plastic products investigated were found to contribute to fat cell development. The substances in these products reprogramed precursor cells to become fat cells, which in turn rapidly multiplied (pictured from left to right) and accumulated more fat
|Item||Weight gain’ plastics identified?|
|Refillable drinking bottle||YES|
|Yoghurt drinking bottle||NO|
|Shower gel bottle||YES|
|Hair conditioner bottle||YES|
|Coffee cup lid||NO|
For a long time, experts believed that most plastic chemicals would stay in these everyday products, but Wagner’s team has shown that they leach a large number under real world conditions.
This allows the chemicals to then enter the body.
Previous research has also suggested that some plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, also known as ‘obesogens’, that may affect our development and fertility.
However, now it appears they may be to blame for weight gain as well.
That’s because chemicals from one third of the plastic products investigated in the new study were found to contribute to fat cell development in laboratory experiments.
The substances in these products reprogramed precursor cells to become fat cells, which in turn rapidly multiplied and accumulated more fat.
Chemicals from one third of the plastic products investigated in the new study were found to contribute to fat cell development in laboratory experiments
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at 34 different plastic products to see which chemicals they contained stock image)
WHAT ARE ‘OBESOGENS’?
Obesogens are a form of endocrine-disrupting chemical that meddle with your hormones and promote the build-up of fat in your tissues.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic or naturally occurring compounds that can interfere with or mimic the body’s hormones.
EDCs – such as flame retardants, phthalates and bisphenol-A – are known for their potential effects on reproductive, neurological and immune functions.
But animal studies also suggest early life exposure to some can cause weight gain later in life, and are dubbed ‘obesogens’.
Some manufacturers have reduced the use of EDCs in products, but many are still common in consumer goods.
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that children consume 50 milligrams of house dust each day.
While some plastic products contained known metabolism-disrupting substances, others did not – yet they still induced the development of fat cells.
This means that plastics contain currently unidentified chemicals that interfere with how our body stores fat, the researchers said.
‘It’s very likely that it is not the usual suspects, such as Bisphenol A, causing these metabolic disturbances,’ said Johannes Völker, one of the study’s authors.
‘This means that other plastic chemicals than the ones we already know could be contributing to overweight and obesity.’
Obesity contributes to some of the most common causes of death in the world, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Being overweight also increases our susceptibility to various infections such as the effects of Covid.
Around two billion people in the world are overweight and about 650 million of them are classed as obese.
There are many reasons for this but the latest study’s authors say plastic chemicals may well be a factor that has not been previously considered.
The chemicals include phthalates and bisphenols, but the new research shows that there are many more substances that trigger these problematic effects.
Phthalates and bisphenol-A are known for their potential effects on reproductive, neurological and immune functions.
But animal studies also suggest early life exposure to some can cause weight gain later in life.
Some manufacturers have reduced the use of EDCs, also dubbed ‘obesogens’, in products, but many are still common in consumer goods.
‘Consequently, identifying and understanding other environmental factors than lifestyle is crucial to manage obesity,’ the authors wrote.
‘Given that the endocrine system controls appetite, satiety, metabolism, and weight, exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is one such factor.’
The study has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
GLOBAL USE OF ‘VIRGIN PLASTIC’ BY SOME OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST BRANDS HAS PEAKED AND IS SET TO FALL, STUDY SAYS
Global use of ‘virgin plastic’ by manufacturers has peaked and is on track to fall by around a fifth by 2025 due to the rise in recycled packaging, a 2021 report found.
Virgin plastic use by companies including Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever has fallen for the second year running, UK charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The foundation promotes a focus on a ‘circular economy’ where material resources are kept in use as long as possible as an alternative to virgin plastic use.
In all, 63 consumer goods groups and retailers who have partnered the foundation are set to cut their use of non-recycled plastics by almost a fifth by 2025.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation leads the Global Commitment, launched in 2018 in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme.
The commitment has 63 brands and retail signatories including Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Mars and L’Oréal, who are committed to plastic packaging reduction targets for 2025.
Read more: Global use of ‘virgin plastic’ is set to fall by a fifth by 2025, study reveals