Beating Obesity Before Birth.

pregnant woman, obesity before birth

There are now over 20 million toddlers who are considered obese and this represents a looming health crisis which is evidenced by a 500% increase in Type 2 diabetes in Australian children during the past decade.  How do so many young children become overweight so rapidly?  I immediately conjure images from my first visit to an American Super-Mall, where it was so common to see plump 2 year olds in their prams with a can of cola in one hand and a pink donut in the other. However it is more than this. Genetic predisposition, along with diet and lack of exercise have all been chief suspects in the obesity plague. Recent research reveals that the problem can actually begin before birth. It seems that we are not just what we eat, we are what our mother and grandmother ate and there is also a link to the chemical contamination of our forebears.

Pre-Natal Sugar Sickness

Type 2 diabetes is considered the coming plague, as one in three Americans are now pre-diabetic. High fasting blood sugar levels are the most powerful indicator of potential heart problems and low fasting blood insulin levels are the single common denominator in centenarians. Longevity is powerfully linked to low carbohydrate consumption and associated insulin levels. If we understand that a chief role of insulin is to store fat, for use in times of need, then we begin to understand that high blood sugar is a huge player in the obesity epidemic. In actual fact, fat is less likely to make us fat than excess carbohydrates. In this context, there is a huge issue with current dietary dogma which is dominated by a food pyramid where most of our calorie intake is supposed to come from carbos. Saturated fat is demonised within the dominant paradigm but, absurdly,  the excess carbs are actually converted to a long chain fatty acid that is amongst the most destructive form of fat in the human body.

There is an increasing awareness of the benefits of detox before pregnancy and the importance of diet and informed supplementation during  and after pregnancy. However, in light of recent research, perhaps we should be more closely monitoring consumption of refined carbohydrates during this critical period. Recent research has shown that if the pregnant mother consumes excess carbohydrates then the new born child will be born with insulin resistance and if that baby is a female then the eggs in her ovaries will also be affected.

What Is Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a critically important hormone that delivers the two major cell foods into the cell. Fatty acids and glucose are both delivered by insulin, as is the master mineral, magnesium. When we constantly spike blood sugar with high GI foods, the pancreas overworks to produce enough insulin to balance out this toxic oversupply.  When flooded with excess insulin, cells protect themselves by shutting down increasing numbers of their insulin receptors (losing insulin sensitivity).Type 2 diabetes is the end result of this ongoing shutdown. At this point cells begin to starve through lack of glucose, fatty acids and magnesium. This starvation often progresses to loss of limbs and eyesight.

The Chemical Link to the Fat Plague

A growing body of research is highlighting the link between common chemicals in our environment and the obesity plague. It appears that exposure to certain fat promoting chemicals – particularly at critical developmental stages, can lead to problems with excess weight and obesity. These contaminants include persistant organic pollutants (POPs) – chemicals that remain in the environment and bio-accumulate in the food chain. Two of the most common POPs are DDE, a breakdown product of the insecticide, DDT and PCBs, both of which are no longer used but remain in our soils and waterways and bioaccumulate in animal fat and fatty fish. A recent US  study involving 250 mothers eating DDE contaminated fish from Lake Michigan, found that daughters exposed to this chemical in the womb were more likely to be overweight as adults. In fact, those with raised prenatal levels were 6kgs to 10kgs heavier. A recent Belgium study found that children aged 1-3 yrs were more likely to be obese if they were exposed to PCBs in the womb. This study also found that both DDE and PCB levels were strongly linked to Body Mass Index (BMI). Another POP is hexachlorobenzene (HCB), a fungicide widely used in the 70’s but now banned due to it’s toxicity. A Spanish study involving 482 children in Barcelona found that those children with the highest levels of HCB in their blood before birth were two to three times more likely to be overweight or obese by the age of six.

Pollutants From Plastics

Bisphenol A (BPA), found in polycarbonate plastics and in the epoxy resins that line food and drink cans,  is so ubiquitous that a recent US study found detectable levels in more than 90% of the general population. BPA has been previously linked to a number of health problems including, diabetes, birth defects and cancer but now it it has also been linked to obesity. Professor Frederick vom Saal, from the University of Missouri, contends that “Prenatal exposure to BPA increases differentiation of fat cells and also increases glucose transport, both of which may affect later development of obesity”. Several animal studies have linked prenatal exposure of BPA to obesity and although this may not necessarily correlate to humans, a recent study of BPA levels in young women did find that BPA concentrations were significantly higher in those who were obese. Phthalates are the other major pollutant from plastics. These chemicals are used to make plastic more pliable and outgas at the rate of 1% each year. This may seem an insignificant amount but the US alone produced over a million tonnes of plastics last year and that 1% represents 10,000 tonnes of this toxin released into our homes and workplaces! In a recent US study involving 4000 subjects, researchers monitored the presence of six phthalates in urine and found that those with the highest levels tended to have more abdominal fat and higher body mass indexes (even after controlling for diet and exercise).

Smoking During Pregnancy Fans The Fat

Research shows that children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are twice as likely to be obese. This is just one of  many negative findings in relation to smoking while pregnant and we must surely be reaching a point where this this behaviour is considered child abuse and punished accordingly. A review of eight studies published in a journal called “Maternal and Child Health” found that prenatal exposure to maternal smoking resulted in a significantly higher chance of childhood obesity. The findings in relation to smoking offer compelling evidence that pollution in the womb can have unanticipated effects upon children in later life.

Protection From The Baby Bashers

Phthalates, BPAs and POPs, along with several other chemicals, are recognised endocrine disrupters. These toxins wreak havoc with our hormone systems which are key players in managing metabolism and controlling body weight. These chemicals have already been linked to reproductive problems and cancer but now it seems they are more insidious than previously recognised. The problems are magnified during critical phases of cell differentiation, like fetal development in the womb. The negative effects are more pronounced in the developing organism and are harmful at much lower levels. This is because the fetus lacks the protective mechanisms that are available to the adult. These include DNA repair systems, immune competency, detoxifying enzymes, liver metabolism and the blood/brain barrier, all of which are not yet fully functional in the fetus. This is further complicated by the fact that the developing fetus has an increased metabolic rate which can magnify the toxicity of these chemicals. In a journal called, ‘Reproductive Toxicology’, researcher Retha Newbold, reviewed the research to date and concluded “Since a recent study found evidence for a role for developmentally expressed genes in the origins of obesity and body fat distribution, it is indeed possible that early exposure to environmental chemicals with hormonal activity may be altering the genetic programming of adipocytes (fat cells) and their distribution”. The presence of these so-called ‘obesogens’   highlights the need to avoid these chemicals whenever possible, particularly during pregnancy, but how is this best achieved?

Ten Ways to Dodge The Fat Fuellers

1         Minimise exposure to** POPs** by limiting consumption of fatty fish, and meat fat,  particularly from feedlot beef and farmed salmon.

2         Avoid Bisphenol A (BPA) by eating fresh, unprocessed food and avoiding canned goods as much as possible.

3         Avoid polycarbonate plastic food and drink containers marked with the number 7 in the recycling logo as these usually contain BPA.

4         Choose glass instead of plastic water bottles and check that metal water bottles are not lined with plastic (as they often are).

5         Never use plastic containers in the microwave as this magnifies chemical release.

6         Don’t store food in plastic containers, particularly foods that contain oils or fats.

7         Phthalates are found in everything from cosmetics and food packaging to children’s toys and teething rings.

8         Only buy **cosmetics **that are free from phthalates and “fragrance” as this toxin can be absorbed through the skin.

9         Choose  PVC-free food storage.  Buy plastic wrap and storage bags made from polyethylene rather than PVC.

10      Select PVC-free packaging. i.e. examine the recycling logo on products you purchase with plastic packaging, as plastics with the number 3 in the symbol contain PVC and associated phthalates.