#18 Obesogens: Chemicals That Make You Fat with Lara Adler


Lara Adler, a toxins expert, talks to me about chemicals, called obesegens, that make you FAT!  It seems that Americans and people all over the world are living in an ‘obesogenic’ environment. Chemicals and toxins in our air, food, water and beauty products are promoting the obesity epidemic and making it easy to gain weight and hard to lose. 

These chemicals promote obesity in a number of ways that may alarm you. Lara is going to tell you where they lurk and what you can do to avoid them. Learn why you’re not able to lose that last ten pounds and why your weight loss efforts are being undermined.

About Lara

Lara Adler

I train and educate my colleagues in the holistic health and wellness practitioner community to have a greater fluency around environmental toxins and how they directly impact and every health condition that their clients are faced with, from weight gain and diabetes, to thyroid disease and infertility. Focusing on the facts, and learning to present this information in a way that’s approachable and not overwhelming is a fundamental aspect of all my courses.

I, along with my assistant Lisa Fiorvante, also specialize in helping women, mothers, and mothers to be identify and address potentially dangerous chemicals in their home environment so they can create a safe, healthy, and non-toxic space for themselves and their children to grow, while reducing risks of diabetes, obesity, behavioral issues, ADHD, and other serious conditions linked to chemical exposures. You can read more about that work by going to the PARENTS side of my site.

I’m deeply committed to peeling back the curtain and opening up the conversation about environmental toxins to people in a way that’s informative, accessible, actionable, and totally free from overwhelm. While it’s easy to get super paranoid or over the top fanatic about toxins – I prefer to take a practical, real-world approach to keeping ourselves and our clients safe.  Visit her website at Laraadler.com.

Find Lara

Visit her website at Laraadler.com

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Wendy Myers: Welcome to the Live to 110 Podcast. My name is Wendy Myers and I’m a certified holistic health and nutrition coach. We’re broadcasting live from Malibu, Ca. This afternoon I’m interviewing Lara Adler, a toxins expert who informs parent about protecting their children and trains health professionals how to inform their clients about toxins. This is a really important show because we are going to be talking about the chemicals that are making you fat!! Chemicals called obesogens promote obesity in a number of ways that may alarm you. Lara is going to tell you where they lurk and what you can do to avoid them.

But before we get started, I have to do a little disclaimer. Please keep in mind that this program is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or health condition. The Live to 110 Podcast is solely informational in nature and is not intended to diagnose, cure or heal any disease. Please consult your health care practitioner before attempting in any treatment I or a guest suggest on this show.

Please go check out my website Liveto110.com™. I started the site to educate you about Paleo Nutrition and the importance of detoxing from heavy metals and industrial chemicals that are the major underlying cause of disease, and how to treat your health conditions naturally without medication.  ……..My goal with Liveto110.com™ is to help you prevent disease and live a long, healthy life – hopefully to 110!

If you like what you hear in today’s show, please give the Live to 110 Podcast a nice review and rating in iTunes. This will help people around the world to find the show easier and get my word out on health. I would really appreciate it so much.

Let’s get on with the show. It seems that Americans and people all over the world are living in an ‘obesogenic’ environment. Chemicals and toxins in our air, food, water and beauty products are promoting the obesity epidemic and making it easy to gain weight and hard to lose. So, I wanted to get a toxins expert on the show to tell us how to avoid these often overlooked causes of weight gain. Good Afternoon Lara. How are you?

Lara Adler: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Wendy Myers: Why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to focus on toxins?

Lara Adler: I’ve always been interested in health and wellness – since I was in my early teens, but I didn’t pursue work in this field until about 5 years ago. I left behind a career in corporate sales that didn’t really speak to my interests or passions about food, nutrition and health, so I just up and quit my job really determined to find something that fit me, and fulfilled me in a bigger, deeper and more impactful way. I stumbled upon holistic health coaching and I finally saw an opportunity to create a career that supported this inner nutrition nerd. So I went back to school, got my certification and started seeing clients right away. Most clients were coming to me for weight loss – I had some clients that would have good results, and others pretty meager results, even though they were both following essentially the same protocols. At first I couldn’t understand why some clients, who were doing all the “right things” just weren’t getting the results. All the traditional, and some non-traditional stones were turned over – diet, exercise, stress, sleep, emotional eating – you name it! But still not getting the results I knew they should have been. I started to research the lesser known causes of weight gain, and resistant weight loss and what I found ultimately changed the entire focus of my practice. I learned that there were hundreds of chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis, just through living our normal everyday lives that contribute in many ways to the obesity epidemic and the growing rates of metabolic disease, not to mention cancer, thyroid problems, infertility, birth defects, and things like ADHD, and other mental health issues. I couldn’t stop researching – I was totally hooked, so I dove headfirst into the world of chemical toxicity and worked to learn as much as I could about this newly emerging field of research.

In talking to people, clients, colleagues, friends – I quickly saw that while this was a conversation that was moving around in scientific and academic circles, it wasn’t really something that had hit the mainstream yet. Most people just didn’t know about chemical toxicity- or what they knew was kind of old school in thinking – for example the only people at risk for chemical exposures where people working in factories or something like that… but they didn’t understand how these everyday chemicals have the ability to impact health in both subtle and profound ways, and most importantly, what steps to take to protect themselves. This is really where I saw the hole that needed filling – so I turned my attention to distilling the research I was finding into simple, easy and actionable steps that people could take to reduce their exposure to these chemicals. I really do consider environmental toxins to be the biggest missing piece in the conversations about health and wellness, whether it’s obesity and diabetes, or thyroid disorders and ADHD – toxins really do touch everything and everyone. Now my entire practice is focused on educating both health & wellness practitioners and parents about these issues, and what solutions exist.

Wendy Myers: You’re an “Environmental Toxins Expert”… Can you explain for everyone what you mean by environmental toxins?

Lara Adler: Sure! I think perspective is really important here. Before I dive into what I call the “chemical landscape”, I want to clarify what I mean by the term “environmental toxins”. So most people, when they hear the phrase “environmental toxins” they think air pollution, soil and water pollution – oil spills, stuff like that – stuff that’s “out there” and that we don’t have much control over. But that’s not actually what I’m referring to at all, although those are important to consider. What I’m talking about are the toxins that are in your personal environment – the things you bring into your home and put on your body. Now most people don’t realize that they’re bringing toxins, or chemicals that can be harmful into their home because these chemicals piggy back on the products that we use every day. Things like our shampoo, and the packaging our food comes in, and our food itself… it comes in on household cleaners, on dry cleaned clothes… it comes in on the soles of our shoes.

Over the past 50 years, more than 80,000 new synthetic chemicals have been developed and introduced into the marketplace, and more are being added each year. Some of these chemicals have of course benefited us – new medicines, building materials – things that have made our lives easier, better, safer, and even longer. But the problem is that the vast majority of these chemicals have little to no safety testing data, meaning that no one has bothered to see whether these chemicals are harmful to human health before putting them into the products that we use every day. And there’s very little government oversight around the use of chemicals in consumer products – you would think that there would be, but there just isn’t. The US Centers for Disease Control have tested for and found more than 200 different synthetic, man made chemicals in the bodies of people tested. Some chemicals, which I’m going to talk about today, are found in almost 98% of everyone tested.

It turns out that some of these chemicals have the ability to influence the way our metabolism works, and through messing with that, and other systems, lead to things like weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.

So if we look at the arc of the introduction of chemicals into the marketplace – which really started after WWII – when this “better living through chemistry” lifestyle was adopted, we can see that it closely mirrors the arc of disease that we experience in this country. Rates of cancers, diabetes, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, autism, childhood leukemia, infertility and birth defects are all on the rise, despite the increase in medications and our advanced understanding of health and disease, and disease prevention. Studies are showing more and more every day that the chemicals we encounter in our normal lives are linked to each of the conditions I just mentioned. And this same arc of chemical use also mirrors the rise of overweight & obesity in this country.

Wendy Myers: What role do you see chemicals playing in the increasing rates of overweight and obesity?

Lara Adler: It’s seems likely that it’s one of the key players – right up there with poor diet and lack of exercise. In fact, I see these three things – poor diet, lack of physical activity, and chemical exposures to be this sort of “perfect storm” all converging to lead us to the kind of obesity statistics that we have today.

A full 35% of our population medically qualifies as obese – usually defined as a BMI over 30% – this is up from only 13% 50 years ago. Since 1980, we’ve seen rates of childhood obesity nearly triple. And these are just the number of people who qualify as being clinically obese. There are millions more – another 34% who are diagnosed as “overweight”. This means that over 70% of our entire population is struggling with weight issues that didn’t exist on this scale 30 years ago.

Conventional thinking around weight management has always hovered around those first two thing – diet & exercise. This is the whole “calories in/calories out” model, that we are now understanding more and more isn’t accurate. there is far more going on that just energy intake and energy expenditure. And this really brings me right up to our main topic, and that’s obesogens.

Wendy Myers: What exactly are obesogens?

Lara Adler: Obesogens are chemical that directly or indirectly increase obesity through disruption of metabolic, hormonal, or developmental processes. They have the ability to alter fat cell development, alter metabolism, and promote fat retention. This term was coined by Dr. Bruce Blumberg, professor of Development & Cell Biology at UC Irvine back in 2006, so it’s a relatively new term. The idea though that chemicals in the environment could be contributing to the obesity epidemic goes back to 2002 when a research paper by Dr. Paula Baily-Hamilton presented evidence from toxicologic studies as far back as the 1970‘s showing that low-dose chemical exposures, which I’m going to talk about shortly, were associated with weight gain in experimental animals.

Research into this field has really only begun to take off in the last 6-7 years so it’s still in it’s infancy. Although there are likely many many more, there are currently 20 chemicals that have been identified as obesogens – things like nicotine, MSG, arsenic, atrazine, DDT, Fructose, parabens… and even some pharmaceuticals.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories of people who were put on a prescription medication that has a side effect of weight gain… things like clozapine, which is used to treat schizophrenia, is well known for causing weight gain. Antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and even really common medications like Prevacid and Nexium can trigger weight gain in people.

These are obeogens at work.

But as you can gather from that list of identified obesogens, it’s not just pharmaceuticals – it’s things like nicotine, MGS, pesticides like atrazine and DDT. And chemicals added to consumer products – things like phthalates and parabens, and BPA.

Wendy Myers: How are these chemicals linked to weight gain and obesity… what makes them “obesogens”?

Lara Adler: Great question. I’ll try to keep this simple… but basically, here’s how these chemicals are able to have these effects – and different chemicals can act differently within the body.. there are a number of different routes to these same outcomes – weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes… and some chemicals actually interfere with our bodies in a few different ways.

But basically speaking here are a few of the ways that these chemicals can impact us: One, they can activate something called a PP(R) gamma receptor which is the master regulator of fat cell development in our bodies. Activation of this receptor can actually change the programming of fat cells – if a stem cell is in pre-development and this receptor is activated, that stem cell can become a fat call, rather than say the bone cell, skin cell, or liver cell that it was going to become. What this does is actually increase the NUMBER of fat cells in the body.

If that cells is already a fat cell, activation of the PP(R) gamma receptor will increase the AMOUNT of fat inside each fat cell, making it larger. Some of these obesogenic chemicals work by activating that receptor, in the same way that those pharmaceuticals do. You can see this has nothing to do with calories or exercise! okay – so here’s another way that obsogenic chemicals can work…many of the obesogenic chemicals are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDC’s. These are chemicals that are capable of blocking or mimicking the role of natural hormones in our bodies. The hormonal system works in a sort of lock and key fashion – we’ve got hormone receptors in the body – these are like the locks and the hormones themselves act as keys. Chemicals, masquerading as hormones, slip in and disrupt the normal processes of our body, including messing with the hormones that regulate satiety, energy metabolism, and appetite. Many of these chemicals are synthetic estrogens, which can lead to all kinds of health effects well beyond just weight gain and obesity. Some of these obesogens are linked to insulin resistance. Insulin as you know is the primary regulator of fat storage in the body. When insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat.

Wendy Myers: Can you give us a few specific examples of chemicals in our everyday lives that are obesogens… where we might find them, and then once we identify them, how to we avoid them?

Lara Adler: Sure! Some of the most common obesogens that we encounter in our daily lives are phthalates, BPA, and pesticides. I’ll go through each of those and then offer a few suggestions on how to reduce your exposure.

Now I’ll preface this by saying that we cannot avoid all exposures. Chemicals in our environment are ubiquitous – they’re found on every corner of the globe… even polar bears in the arctic have things like flame retardants in their blood! But the fact that chemicals are all around us, doesn’t mean that we throw up our arms in defeat, without even making an effort… because the truth is there are a lot of things that we CAN do to reduce our exposure. A significant number of exposures are happening inside the home, and while we can’t control all the things that we’re exposed to out in the world, we most certainly can control the products that we’re buying and brining right into our homes. and THIS is where we focus our energy… the saying I like to use is that we “change the things we can control so we worry less about the ones we can’t.” So the first chemical I’ll talk about isn’t actually one chemical, but rather a class of chemicals called phthalates. That’s spelled PH-TH-ALA-TES, pronounced THALL-ates. Phthalates are synthetic estrogens, capable of blocking or mimicking natural estrogen in the body. Phthalates are used in a few different ways and found in a wide variety of products, which is why it’s one of the most important ones to address. It’s found in a wide variety of plastics, in particular ones that are flexible and bendy – so think rubber duckies and other plastic toys, and shower curtains- It’s actually one of the ingredients in the plastic that allows for that flexibility. It’s also used in thousands of household products from laundry detergent to dish soap, to candles and air fresheners to perfume, body lotion, and shampoos – dryer sheets, aftershave… if it’s fragranced, it’s likely got phthalates in it. The reason your clothes smell like your detergent or dryer sheets, or the reason you can smell your shampoo long after you’ve washed your hair is because phthalates have fixed that scent to the fabric, or your hair and skin.. It’s role in these types of products is to fix and hold the fragrances found in them. Phthalates are so ubiquitous that they are found in the blood of 98% of people tested by the CDC. Studies have shown that measurable levels of phthalates in the urine are associated with increased waist circumference and insulin resistance. It’s not entirely known the exact mechanism by which phthalates act as obesogens, but it’s likely due to the fact that they interfere with normal thyroid function, which itself can be responsible for fluctuations in weight.

Now its worth noting that studies are showing that weight associated with these chemicals tends to occur at low levels of exposure, not high doses, and this is significant, because through living our normal everyday lives we’re not exposed to big industrial / occupational type doses, we’re exposed to small doses…. very small doses from a variety of sources that can add up inside the body to levels that are capable of having a real impact.

Wendy Myers: Can you explain this low-dose thing to us? Logically it makes sense that bigger exposures would be worse for us, but that seems not to be the case with many of these chemicals.

Lara Adler: Sure! So the common line of thought when looking at chemical exposures is to assume that more chemicals equals more reaction or disease … meaning that large doses or large exposures are worse than smaller ones. This concept is often referred to as “the dose makes the poison” and the entire field of toxicologic research is built upon the idea that bigger doses = bigger impacts. But that’s not entirely true.

It’s been well established that our bodies are DESIGNED to respond to tiny – infinitesimal levels of chemicals in the body. The entire field of pharmacology is based on THIS idea.

Nearly every prescription drug is delivered to the body in part per billion doses – To give you some perspective on this, 1 part per billion is equal to just over 1 teaspoon diluted in 600,000 gallon olympic sized swimming pool – Many prescription drugs are delivered at fractions of parts per billion – birth control for example – a single dose of the most commonly prescribed birth control is delivered at 0.035 parts per billion – much less than that teaspoon… Really tiny doses.

Research is now showing that when it comes to these endocrine disrupting chemicals…. the ones that can mimic or block natural estrogen or that can interfere with any of the other hormones in the body, less is actually more. What I mean by that is that very small doses are showing to have a significant impact, at levels that had previously been assumed to be safe. The entire field of endocrinology has always understood that our hormonal system is designed to to infinitesimal levels of hormones within the body. So it’s especially worrying that the chemicals we’re most commonly exposed to are these low-dose hormone disrupting kinds!

Wendy Myers: So what can we do to reduce our exposure to phthalates?

Lara Adler: Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s a process – it’s not going to happen overnight, and that’s totally okay! I’ve found that the easiest place to start is with the fragranced products you bring into your home – the laundry detergent, scented candles and air fresheners, and then all the perfumes, body lotions etc, and start phasing them out, and opting for unscented/fragrance free products. Start reading product labels. You’ll often find the word “fragrance” or “perfume” listed towards the bottom. That’s really a catch-all phrase that could include hundreds of different chemicals, just within that one word. There are plenty of products that are fragrance free, or that are scented with plant based essential oils, and these are what you want to buy instead. For personal care products, people can go to the environmental working groups skin deep databse and look up products that are made without phthalates and other harmful chemicals.

Wendy Myers: Great! Can you share with us some other places where obesogens might be hiding out in our lives?

Lara Adler: Sure. A big one is pesticides found on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Many of the pesticides used on food crops are not only lipophilic, but endocrine disrupting, and likely obesogenic. These pesticides are also carcinogens and neurodevelopmental & reproductive toxins, so by avoiding them, you’re also reducing your exposure to chemicals linked to cancers, infertility, birth defects, and so on.

There are over 1 billion pounds of pesticides used in the US each year and those pesticides don’t just vanish… they end up as residues on our foods… the solution here is pretty obvious – you eat organically grown foods that don’t have these same kinds of pesticide residues and subsequent issues.

When organic foods first started showing up in grocery stores, I thought it was just an excuse to charge more and I really looked at it as fancy, expensive marketing… but as it became clear that organic was actually healthier, my opinion shifted. And not healthier because it was more nutritious per-se, but rather because it was free of all the harmful, toxic chemicals that conventional food used.

I now look at organic food as a necessity, and as one of the smartest things you can do to avoid chemicals in your daily life. This is your FOOD – this is what sustains and nourishes you. It doesn’t make sense to eat food that’s also loaded with dangerous chemicals.

And one final obesogen that I’ll share with you is BPA or Bisphenol-A. Many of you are likely familiar with this chemical… it made news a few years back when there was a huge uproar after it was discovered that this chemical, also a synthetic estrogen and endocrine disrupting chemical, was being used in polycarbonate baby bottles.

Bisphenol – A was actually developed as a synthetic estrogen back in the late 1890’s, but it wasn’t until the 1920’s or 30’s that it began to be used in commercial products. Its use as an intentional synthetic estrogen was short lived, but it was granted this new life as a plasticiser. BPA is now one of the most heavily produced chemicals in the world, and is found in a wide range of products, from clear polycarbonate plastics, to the lining of canned foods, to cash register receipts and dental sealants. BPA is also found in the blood of around 98% of people tested.

Because BPA is everywhere it’s difficult to prevent all exposures, but there are simple measures you can take at home to significantly reduce your exposures. The first thing to do is to move away from using canned foods. BPA is used in the epoxy lining in canned foods – from tomatoes and beans to beer and soda. This epoxy lining helps prevent direct food contact with the aluminum, which can easily be dissolved by the contents in the can, or which can effect the flavor of foods stored in the can. Acidic foods, like canned tomatoes are the worst – acidity is one of the things that increases the amount of BPA that leaches from the inside of the can, into the foods.

Additionally, you want to be mindful of using plastic food storage containers… in particular #7 plastics, which can be an indication of the presence of BPA. Polycarbonte plastic is the clear, hard kind…like Brita filters, or clear plastic reusable travel cups like the kind you get from starbucks. These are all made with polycarbonate plastic and likely have BPA in them.

Instead of canned foods, opt for fresh, or cooking from dried when possible, which I know is tricky. There is one company who makes a line of canned BEANS that don’t use the standard epoxy lining in the can, but rather an enamel one that is free of plasticisers and thats Eden Organics. So if giving up canned beans isn’t going to happen, at the very least, buy only Eden Organics.

Eden organics also, along with a few other brands, has started selling tomatoes in glass jars instead of cans, which are an excellent alternative. When it comes to plastics, aim for using stainless steel or glass bottles when you’re out and about – these are inexpensive, and can be found just about anywhere these days. And I want to make a note about BPA-Free plastics, because you’re likely going to see a lot of those. There are several structrually similar chemicals in the bisphenol family, Bisphenol A is only one of them. Many products that are now BPA free have simply swapped the BPA for one of those other chemicals, in many cases BPS, which frustratingly is apparently even more persistant and more potent that BPA! so watch out for those claims!

Wendy Myers: I have one final question that I ask all my guests: what do you think is the most pressing health issue in our world today?

Lara Adler:  That’s a good question and I think the most pressing issues aren’t actually a single thing and I think my answer will surprise you, but I think it’s not really a single thing but it’s rather a mindset and that’s the mindset of shortsightedness. The people are producing, trading, building,developing, growing things with today and tomorrow in mind and with maximizing profit and  minimizing loss if I understand, but it’s happening at the expensive in the future you were able to somehow could have collectively shift or constructive from the short term of the long term. So many of the choices people are making wouldn’t be made because they’re not sustainable…..so the surprise to help with those quick fix description drugs and quick fix diet mentality to the way we raise animals for  food, the way we broke crops, the way we fish our ocean, it applies to the way that we continue to stick up process healing , national gas disruption and oil and how we abuse our clean water sources which include our air and of course it applies to the harmful untested chemical that was thought we really merely using  in the manufacturer of the things that we use to make our daily lives convenient—-this is the biggest overarching pressing issue because to me,  it really lies at the core of each individual health issues out there, these were made them shortsighted.

Wendy Myers: If people listening want to learn more about the work that you do, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Lara Adler: Well, there are a few ways and as I said in the beginning we’ve practices and early focus on educating health and wellness practitioners and if happened to be you and your listening and if you’re happened to be a health coach or a nurse or an acupuncturer or anybody working with clients around health and wellness and I certainly want to invite you to check out the courses that I teach and you can do that by going to laraadler.com/coaches I have a co-website dedicated to you and in fact I actually have a 3 months course on enviromental toxins in a home and starting later this month on August 27 really less than two weeks called ”Blue prints for healthy life” and if you are interested  in checking out that, you can find details at http://www.laraadler.com/coaches/blueprint if you’re a parent or if planning of becoming a parent and looking for chemical toxins in your home is really a key for essentials…chemical using implicated in life…so many childhood diseases leukamia, allergies, asthma, autism you name it, and for parents I offer customize one on one support that could really help people clear out of  many of these dangers with them comments are  possible and in fact if your parent and you are interested to learn more about that then you can go to laraadler.com/parent and if you are neither …people out there that are neither one of those and you still want to learn more about chemical toxins follow me on twitter.Twitter is on where I share the most currently news as of seeing  release about environmental toxins and about health and then I shared products that I love and are the great way to stay connected together with study to streams of information about this topic, my twitter is @laraadler.com and if you happened to be in pinterest. I set up a number of board for all kinds of great stock there  at pinterest.com/laraadler.

Wendy Myers: I bought your Kitchen detox program to use with my clients. I’ve gotten a great response so far. It just made it so easy to walk my clients through how to detox their kitchen.

Lara, thank you so much for being on the show. And thank you for bringing attention to this very important topic. The work you’re doing is truly helping health professionals get the word out to their clients and patients about the dangers of chemicals and toxins in our food and lurking in our kitchen. Thank you for doing this work. It’s so important.

Thank you to all the listeners out there for tuning in to the Live to 110 Podcast. Please go leave a review on iTunes if you enjoyed what you heard today. Your review will increase my visibility on iTunes and help me spread the word on health. Thank you so much for listening!


Wendy Myers

Wendy Myers, FDN, CHHC, is a functional diagnostic nutritionist, certified holistic health coach and founder of Live to 110. Her passions include getting you healthy, Modern Paleo, retoxing and detoxing. Look for her new book coming soon, The Modern Paleo Survival Guide.