NOTE: This article first appeared on our scientific site (with footnotes and citations) as How Hidden Chemicals Can Sabotage Your New Year’s Fitness Plans
Hidden chemicals in your food and water can sabotage your fitness program and keep you from getting the most out of all that effort and sweat.
While Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) have received little media attention, most people have heard of one EDC — BPA (Bisphenol A) — and how it can leach from plastic water bottles and other items.
It’s important to remember that BPA is just the most prominent compound — the “poster child” — representing the of hundreds of EDCs that mimic hormones and can contribute to cancer, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, infertility and other serious health problems.
Most EDCs found so far wreak havoc by impersonating forms of estrogen. But others have been discovered that interfere in other ways to alter the genetic function of cells.
You’re Already Contaminated
Significantly, you are almost certainly among the 93 percent of Americans whose bodies are contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other studies.
Most of us are contaminated because BPA and other EDCs are virtually everywhere and can leach into our bodies from tens of thousands of everyday items including:
• canned food and beverage containers,
• thermal-transfer cash register receipts,
• baby bottles,
• plastic bottles (like those for wine, sauces, cooking oils, catsup, apple sauce),
• drink boxes,
• dental sealants and fillings,
• compact disks,
• microwavable frozen food trays,
• plastic wrap, and
• polycarbonate plastics used as coatings in metallic water bottles, hydration bladders and those big, five-gallon water bottles.
In fact, more than 90% of all consumer plastics tested under normal use conditions exhibited substantial leaching of EDCs that mimic forms of estrogen in the body.
Lower Metabolism Rate, Sabotage Muscle Building
BPA and other EDCs collide with fitness and training because they can lower your overall metabolism rate, interfere with your body’s effectiveness in using food for energy and thwart the processes that build muscle mass and strength. And remember, muscle activity is your biggest ally in burning calories and keeping fat away.
The ways that EDC contamination messes up your body and fitness efforts are complicated.
There are hundreds of molecules — hormones, proteins, nucleic acids and other compounds — involved with exercise, metabolism and muscle building. However, EDCs such as BPA act in very, very specific ways to make getting fit and healthy harder than it should be.Decrease Insulin Production and Increase Insulin Resistance
Scientific studies confirm that BPA and EDCs decrease insulin production and create insulin resistance, a double whammy that prevents cells from properly utilizing the glucose in the blood to make energy. Those two effects are also part of the road toward Type 2 Diabetes.
For the purpose of your fitness program, EDC-induced insulin resistance starves your muscle cells and makes you work harder for fewer results. This can also create an excess of glucose which is then more easily converted to fat than would be expected for a given level of exercise or dieting effort.
EDCs can also lower your overall metabolism which throttles your overall ability to keep off (or burn off) those extra calories. To see how this matters, we need to look at a few of the key roles that insulin plays in your body.
Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas and is regulated by the amount of glucose in your blood. The higher the blood level of glucose, the more insulin the beta cells produce. Ideally, this keeps your glucose levels within a healthy range. Too little (hypoglycemia) and you can become light-headed or lose consciousness; too much (hyperglycemia) is toxic and can kill the beta cells in your pancreas leading to a permanently decreased ability to produce insulin.
In addition to prompting cells to burn glucose to keep your body running — and to fuel exercise — insulin also regulates the production of glycogen which is a ready source of instant, “on demand” energy that gets stored in your liver and muscles.
Faulty Use of Your Body’s Energy
A bout of exercise or other activities relies on glycogen to get you moving. Once you run through your glycogen stores, you “hit the wall.” This is one reason to eat small amounts of energy bars (high glucose) before exercising.
Protein synthesis also requires insulin’s intervention.
Finally, with insulin, it’s all about balance. When you have more glucose in your blood than your body needs, insulin (along with hormones from adipocytes — fat cells) accelerates the process that turns the excess into triglycerides that are the stored in adipocytes.
In addition, EDCs — independent of glucose levels — can promote the enlargement of fat cells and the growth of new ones, thus encouraging obesity all on their own.
A Step Toward Type 2 Diabetes
Significantly, of those factors: insulin resistance, decreased insulin production and adipose hormone malfunction are all characteristics of Type 2 Diabetes. This means that EDCs may pre-dispose even non-obese, fit people with normal or athletic body-mass indices to Type 2 Diabetes.
Most EDCs thwart your fitness plans by impersonating sex hormones
This is significant for your fitness program because insulin production is affected by estrogens — and artificial ones like BPA and other EDCs.
While the estrogenic effects of EDCs that you consume today can affect your efforts to get fit and stay healthy, if you’re a woman who plans on having children, EDC exposure in the womb can also affect a child’s future. The EDCs work by an epigenetic mechanism which prevents an existing, normal gene from producing a protein — or enough of that protein — that is required. In this manner, it can affect a fetus and epigenetically pre-program those genes for a tendency toward obesity and diabetes.
In addition to all this havoc, EDCs can reduce the levels of a naturally occurring hormone known as IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) which influences the ability to gain muscle mass.
Most people (and especially illegal sports dopers) are familiar with the growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. When that pituitary growth hormone gets secreted into the blood stream, it prompts the liver to make IGF-1. Then, IGF-1 amps up growth in almost every cell in the body but especially in bones, cartilage and skeletal muscle, all of which can produce stronger, faster, leaner athletes with greater endurance.
While supplements are banned by international sports bodies, IGF-1 is produced naturally in your body, so your own personal athletic performance depends on making sure you can naturally achieve the highest levels possible. And that means reducing your EDC load.
What can you do?
A controlled study at the University of Bath showed that over-eating and under-exercising — as is often the case during holiday periods — have much the same effects. That study, which did not examine EDCs, found that vigorous exercise, even while over-eating, counteracted the harmful effects on insulin and fat. While EDCs may still make your exercise less effective, be assured that it does help.
Some easy steps you can take to avoid EDCs are:
1. Use foods packed in glass. Avoid cans.
2. Avoid drinking water from any form of plastic. Most of those that claim to be “BPA free” still exhibit estrogenic activity.
3. Never microwave your food in plastic.
Remove frozen, pre-prepared foods from the trays they come in and heat on a real plate.
Even paper trays and most paper plates have a plastic coating or liner.
Hot or acidic foods and liquids will leach EDCs more readily than other foods.
4. Take your own real mug to get coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Paper cups have a plastic lining.