Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) and Obesity

EDC's in cosmetics


As the personal care industry has boomed, so have the rise of endocrine-disrupting hormones (EDC’S).

Have you every given thought to the chemicals in your deodorant, or shampoo? What about in your tupperware?

More importantly, did you ever consider that exposure to these chemicals might be making people obese?

Didn’t think so. Nor did we.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals?

Your endocrine refers to your system of hormones.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are a group of chemicals found in pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and cosmetics, among other personal care products, that disrupt the hormones in our bodies.

Among EDC’s links to health complications, including autism, ADHD, cancer, heart disease, and many others, a less discussed side effect of EDC exposure is obesity and diabetes.

The name for the group of chemicals linked to obesity and diabetes is obesogens.

Obesogens can trigger epigenetic alterations in gene expression, which can predispose the body to produce more fat cells that lead to weight gain and obesity (1).  Unfortunately, this is just one of the effects of obesogen exposure.


Phtalates and Obesity

One group of EDC’s to particularly look out for are phtalates.  Phtalates fall into two categories:

  1. Low-molecular weight phtalates (LMW’s)
    1. LMW phtalates are found in shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, and other personal care products to preserve the products scent.
  2. High-molecular weight phtalates (HMW’s)
    1. HMW phtalates are often added to produce vinyl plastics for intravenous tubing, food wrapping, and flooring.

HMW’s are highly sought after because they give various plastics their soft and malleable feel.  They’re seen in any sort of plastic bottles (water bottles), packaging used by fast-food restaurants, and hospital IV drips (2).  

The health concern is that plastic material can leach over time, entering the consumers body and physical environment.


Phtalate’s Demonstrated Dangers

The damaging health effects of phtalates are numerous:

  1. Phtalates can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.  This often causes irregularity with insulin-related activities in the body and may be linked to obesity (3).
  2. Phtalate exposure triggers the mismanagement of calorie processing, essentially causing your body to convert calories into fat rather than muscle (4).
    1. Phtalates and other EDC’s often disrupt the body’s metabolism, redirecting a recent meal towards fat cell creation as opposed to muscle creation.
  3. Phtalates may promote insulin resistance (IR).  This is bad because IR= higher insulin levels= higher blood sugar= higher likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
    1. A study by Dr. Leonardo Trasande et al.  found that fasting measures of insulin resistance in adolescence, measured in blood, were higher in direct relationship to the levels of DEHP (form of HMW phtalate) breakdown products in the urine. (5)


To summarize, phtalate exposure is linked to higher insulin resistance, mismanagement of calorie processing (fat creation vs. muscle creation), and inflammation in the body.


Bisphenols and Obesity

You’re likely more familiar with bisphenols, or BPA, than phtalates.  Bisphenols are commonly used in metal food and beverage containers to prevent corrosion.

Many studies highlight the relationship between early BPA exposure and obesity-related outcomes.

For instance, in a 2016 study, researchers evaluated prenatal and early-childhood BPA exposures in relation to childhood levels of obesity in the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) New York birth cohort (6).

The results suggested that “prenatal BPA exposure may contribute to developmental origins of adiposity” (7).

In a 2015 study published by Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP’s), researchers found “higher maternal bisphenol levels during pregnancy to be associated with higher body mass indexes (BMI) by age 4 in children” (8 ).  Essentially, the more bisphenol the mother was exposed to, the more obese the child was.

The saddest part of this research is your obesity may be out of your control, and simply the result of your parents, and grandparents, exposure to EDC’s.

Transgenerational inheritance of endocrine disrupting chemicals is demonstrated in various studies ( 9,10,11 ).  By taking the below steps, you can ensure future generations avoid the burden of uncontrollable obesity.


How to Avoid Phtalates and Bisphenols:

  1. As phtalates are very common in cosmetics, make sure to choose cosmetic products labeled “phtalate-free”.
  2. Choose organic, unpackaged foods, which helps reduce your exposure to DEHP (HMW phtalate)
    1. Any diet emphasizing leafy vegetables is best (heart-healthy!)
      1. Reduce canned food exposure (canned food= higher likelihood of bisphenols).
  3. Don’t wash or microwave plastic; the heat leaches the plastic.  Stick to glass containers for keeping food.
  4. BPA-free doesn’t mean bisphenol free!  Make sure to avoid the alternatives that many companies now use that aren’t any safer, like BPP, BFS, BPF,BPZ, and others.


Importantly, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is a great resource to find recommended cosmetics.  Be sure to check our where your current personal care products stand on their site!



EDC’s Other Dangers:

Another EDC that’s recently been identified as an obesogen?  Air pollution.

According to a study done at the German Research Center for Environmental Health, adults with higher levels of particulate matter exposure (result of fossil fuel burning/other industrial activities) had higher levels of insulin resistance (2).

In addition, the researchers found higher levels of leptin, a hormone used to communicate metabolic signals across the body.





The important point is while obesity is always linked to a combination of nature and nurture (genetics, family environment, lifestyle, etc), the chemical context is never included.  

Yet, more and more research links air pollution and other EDC’s to serious health complications.

As we move forward in understanding obesity, the chemical environment and its impact on the human body must not be understated.



For the most up to date and specific information on EDC’s and how to best avoid EDC’s, we recommend Sicker, Fatter, Poorer, by Dr. Leonardo Trasande, M.D.



  1. Trasande, Leonard. Sicker, Fatter, Poorer.
  2. Ibid.
  3. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21349512
  4. Trasande, Leonard. Sicker, Fatter, Poorer.
  5. //pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/132/3/e646.short
  6. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27187982
  7. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27187982
  8. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590754/
  9. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30444163
  10. //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016648015000301
  11. //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25897752
  12. //diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2016/08/16/db15-1567

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