Are Heavy Metals Making You Fat?

Year after year, the number of people struggling to lose weight grows exponentially. And while some can point a finger at a questionable diet or inactivity, many individuals are striving to eat well, stay active and prioritize their health, and are still losing weight loss battle. Given this, might there be some other hidden obstacle preventing our success? Could there be something far more pervasive and sinister lurking well beyond our plate?

Coinciding with the global rise of weight issues has been the steady increase of plastics, chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins in our daily environment. From our plastic coffee lids to our hand sanitizers and the air we breathe—it is impossible to leave your house without being exposed to toxins that are known health disruptors. Sadly, these heavy metals haven’t simply been linked to heartbreaking fertility issues and fatigue. There are many experts that believe the same dangerous substances may also be to blame for world’s obesity epidemic.

Heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium, are metallic elements that are highly toxic and impair health. Although they can be from natural sources, the majority of heavy metals in our environment are a result of industrial waste or agricultural chemicals like pesticides. As we pollute our environment, these pollutants enter our food, water, air, and eventually our bodies. 

So how does this translate to weight? Studies have shown that heavy metal exposure is linked to a wide range of health conditions including metabolism and weight. In 2018, an analysis of 9,537 adult samples showed that exposure to 18 different heavy metals correlated with several markers of weight gain – body mass index (BMI), skinfold thickness, total body fat, and obesity-related conditions like diabetes. A study from China also showed that blood lead levels correlated with a higher BMI and risk of obesity in women but not men. Other heavy metals like cadmium have even been shown to ramp up fat production at a cellular level.

The effect of heavy metals on weight is so strong that in some cases, high exposure during pregnancy can increase the risk of the child developing obesity later in life. One study on lead revealed, “Children whose mothers had red blood cell lead levels of 5.0 mcg/dL or greater (16%) had 65% greater odds of being overweight or obese compared with children whose mothers’ lead level was less than 2 mcg/dL, after adjustment.”  A 2020 study was even able to correlate ambient air pollution exposure to obesity.

There is much we are still learning about how heavy metals affect weight. Research shows us that not all heavy metals have the same effects and results can differ among age groups, gender, toxicity levels and more.

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