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Introduction to Green Chemistry

Lesson Seven: Obesogens

Overview

Obesity Epidemix We know chemicals released into the environment can have a devastating impact on ecosystems, but they can also damage human health. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) can be particularly harmful because the natural balance of hormones in our endocrine systems control so many of the operations in our bodies. Lipid metabolism, which profoundly affects our weight, is no exception. Upsetting this system can lead to obesity, and it’s very clear that obesity has become a major health problem in the Western World.

But are these two trends linked? If chemicals affect our hormones, and hormones, in turn, help control our weight, then it seems reasonable to ask, “Can chemicals released in the environment somehow affect whether a person becomes obese or not?” There is evidence to support this idea. Specifically, research shows us that some EDCs mimic hormones that cause fat cells to multiply, or allow cells to store more fat. Because of these abilities, they’re called “obesogens.” This lesson explores obesogens and asks whether green chemistry can help to curb the obesity epidemic by first identifying and then decreasing the amount of obesogens we release into the natural systems that sustain life, and us.

Lesson Seven consists of three modules which will outline:

  • Why the obesity epidemic is a problem
  • The major receptors and hormones that play a role in lipid balance, and how these can be upset by endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • Evidence that supports the obesogen hypothesis in animals and humans, as well as some of the most potent obesogens and their means of action

Lesson Objective

When you have completed Lesson Seven's modules, you should be able to define the obesogen hypothesis, explain why, in physiological terms, chemicals may play a part in the obesity epidemic, and be able to explain how research shows evidence of these "obesogens."

Lesson Key Points

  • Human obesity is a major problem in the world.
  • Research shows that chemicals can change the endocrine systems of humans by affecting gene expression, so it's worth looking into whether chemicals can be part of the cause of the obesity epidemic.
  • Evidence for such chemicals, called obesogens, has been found in animal, human, and laboratory models.
  • Since obesogens can be found in common materials such as plastics, it’s likely that a reduction in human exposure to these chemicals is likely to decrease the rates of obesity.