Your Body Fat Is A Reservoir Of Environmental Toxins (2024)

Body Fat Is A Reservoir Of Environmental Toxins

Your Body Fat Is A Reservoir Of Environmental Toxins

Learn how to become resilient to environmental toxins by joining The Resiliency Program, or watching my webinar on Building Resilience To Environmental Toxins (coming soon).

The majority of research seems to focus on a group of environmental toxins called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs for short. Examples of POPs include:

  • Organochlorine pesticides.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Dioxins.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

In addition to POPs, other lipophilic (fat loving) chemicals with short half-lives have also been detected in body fat.

It is true without a shadow of doubt, that in modern society, human adipose tissue (fat) can be considered an organ that stores exogenous toxins that are not easily metabolised or excreted from the body. (source)

We became aware that these environmental toxins were harmful to animals and humans all the way back in the 1960s. In fact they  have been banned, or strictly controlled, worldwide. As a result, our exposure to these chemicals has steadily decreased to very low levels. However, and its a big however, humans are still living with continuous exposure to low-dose POPs because of the contamination of food chain, and the fact that we can pass them down the generations. (source)

Humans are thus continuously exposed to these chemical substances, in which they exert hepatic, reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine, cardiovascular, and immunologic adverse health effects. (source)

Human exposure to POPs begins in the uterus due to the easy transfer of compounds from mother to infant and continues after birth through breastfeeding and the consumption of POP-contaminated food. Once lipophilic pollutants such as POPs have entered the human body, they are primarily stored in fat cells and are slowly released into circulation during the break down of fat (for example if you’re following a weight loss plan).

From the viewpoint of the whole body system, some researchers see the storage of these chemicals in fat can be seen as protective because it reduces the amount of POPs reaching other critical organs. (source)

Weight Loss Concerns

Unexpected adverse health effects after a weight-loss program have been reported in several studies.

Because human fat cells are contaminated with various environmental toxins, especially POPs, some researchers believe that intentional weight loss can increase health risk in the long-term, despite short-term benefits. Possible harmful effects due to release of POPs during weight loss are opposite to those usually expected from losing weight. (source)

It is speculated that this tradeoff between health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, and the release of toxins via fat loss, can explain recent puzzling findings on intensive weight loss. The presence of POPs in adipose tissue adds a challenge to weight management and an optimal strategy of weight management needs to consider both fat mass and dynamics of POPs.

In another paper the authors discuss how the increases in plasma POPs levels after weight loss are even greater with an intensive weight loss, as you’d expect. Thus, a critical question that remains unresolved is whether POPs released from the adipose tissue to the bloodstream during intensive weight loss could increase the risk of cardio-metabolic disturbances. It has also been postulated that the accumulation of POPs released in response to an intensive weight loss may impair energy metabolism and stimulate a subsequent weight regain. (source)

In one interesting study drastic weight loss led to increased serum POPs and, within 6-12 months, to a significant 15% decrease in total polychlorinated biphenyl body burden. Importantly, serum POP levels were positively correlated with liver toxicity markers and lipid parameters, independently of age and body mass index. (source)

Intentional vs Unintentional Weight Loss

One paper discussed the concept that the release of POPs during unintentional weight loss would be more problematic than that during intentional weight loss, because intentional weight loss is often accompanied by changes in lifestyle consisting of a healthy diet and exercise. Why does this matter? Because a healthy diet and regular exercise have been suggested as practical ways to counteract the harm caused by POPs in humans.

Nonetheless, a POP-related disadvantage even among persons with intentional weight loss exists. The Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD) study, a large randomised controlled trial that investigated the effects of intensive intentional weight loss in overweight or obese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, suggested this possibility. In this study, overweight or obese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with intensive intentional weight loss demonstrated a significant improvement in most known CVD risk factors in the short term. However, they failed to reduce CVD events in the long term, compared with the control group.

The Obesity Paradox

Better survival among overweight or obese type 2 diabetes mellitus patients has been repeatedly observed in epidemiological studies. This phenomenon, known as ‘the obesity paradox’, has been reported in patients with a wide range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

Compared with other diseases, the obesity paradox in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus appears more perplexing because being overweight or obese is a strong risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and weight reduction is recommended for better glycemic control among overweight or obese patients.

At present, the obesity paradox observed in type 2 diabetes patients has also been interpreted as the result of methodological limitations in epidemiological studies.

However, a biological plausibility for obesity paradox exists: the role of body fat as a reservoir of environmental toxins can be more important in patients who already suffer from the disturbance of homeostasis, compared with healthy persons. Since POPs can act as mitochondrial toxins, the storage of POPs in adipose tissue with natural lipid droplets is relatively safer than the presence of POPs in other critical organs.

In particular, having a large amount of ‘healthy’ adipose tissue may be beneficial for patients.

Physical Exercise And POPs

Therein lies a broader array of exercise benefits, including insulin sensitising, mitochondrial DNA repair, lipid metabolism and intestinal micro-ecological balance. Physical exercise is conducive to reduce POPs body burden and resistant to health hazards of POPs generally. (source)

Research seems to suggest that physical activity could positively influence several pathways negatively influenced by POPs, such as insulin resistance, inflammation, lipid accumulation, adipogenesis, and gut microbiota dysbiosis, all of which are associated with the development of obesity. This research also suggests how, through the controlled mobilisation of POPs, physical activity could be a helpful strategy to reduce the levels of POPs in the bloodstream. (source)

These findings suggest that physical activity should be used to counteract the adverse effects of POPs. 

Nutrition And POPs

Recent research suggest that diet-derived nutrients (e.g., phytochemicals, vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids, dietary fibers) could modulate environmental insults and affect disease development, progression, and outcome. (source)

Researchers are discussing how exploring preventive measures of environmental exposure and disease risk through new paradigms of environmental toxicology, optimal nutrition and health is essential.

Known examples of this include folate supplementation which lowers blood arsenic levels, and plant-derived bioactive nutrients can lower cardiovascular and cancer risks linked to pollutant exposure.

Data also indicate that diets enriched with bioactive food components such as polyphenols and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can prevent or decrease toxicant-induced inflammation. (source)

Concluding Thoughts

The benefits of losing weight still far outweigh the potential adverse health risks. (source) However, further studies are recommended to determine the clinical significance of increased blood levels of POPs following rapid and excessive weight loss, particularly for women attending weight reduction treatment before pregnancy. (source)

First and foremost we need to do what we can to avoid, or limit, our exposure to environmental toxins. This is nigh impossible for some of them however, due to their ubiquitous nature.

We then need to deal with our stress levels and ensure we have a well regulated nervous system. Why would we start with this?

Nothing works when we’re chronically stressed. You won’t detox if you’re chronically stressed. The liver is innervated by parasymptjatic branches of the vagus nerve. You’ll have leaky gut if chronically stressed. This will burden the liver with endotoxins among others. You likely won’ be sleeping well and thus you’re glymphatic system won’t be online at night influencing your capacity to detox the brain. You likely won’t be eating well meaning you aren’t deploying the preventative strategies essential in the modern world. You won’t be breathing correctly, meaning that your diaphragm won’t be fulfilling its role within the detoxification by acting as a mechanical pump for your lymphatic system and gut.

Get the picture?

Thus, consuming healthy diets that exhibit high levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is a meaningful way to reduce the vulnerability to non-communicable diseases linked to environmental toxic insults. (source)

So get eating those antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods, polyphenols and other plant based compounds. Eat your fibre and fermented produce. Exercise. Sweat.

Want to learn more about becoming a super resilient being in our toxic modern world? Check out The Resiliency Program, or watching my webinar on Building Resilience To Environmental Toxins (coming soon).


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