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fat-person-pharm-psychIn the face of celebrity weight gain or loss tabloid photo galleries and ads touting the latest fad diet, it is easy to overlook that overweight and obesity aren’t just cosmetic issues.

Obesity-related conditions can include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable death. Data from the World Health Organization data shows that worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third — 34.9 percent to be exact — or 78.6 million of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese.

The importance of finding a balance between calorie consumption and calorie expenditure is documented as a key to weight loss. But what if you hit the gym and try to watch what you eat? Environmental toxins are often an overlooked component of obesity and diabetes.

I attended a recent lecture by Dr. Stephen Arculeo, a chiropractor in Chicago, who explained that the toxic element is the centerpiece when it comes to shortening our lives, causing weight problems, and creating a build-up of foreign matter in our bodies.

Dr. Arculeo went on to mention the steps we can take to turn on fat-burning hormones and how to remove toxic buildup from our bodies.

What Makes Us Toxic?

Synthetic chemicals—from the BPA in plastic food storage containers to phthalates used in the manufacture of non-stick coatings and the parabens in many personal care products—have been shown to contribute to weight gain, even when there is no increase in calorie intake.

In one study, test rats that were given toxic chemicals but kept on a normal calorie intake and exercise regime showed significant weight gain.

In six months, these rats were 20 percent heavier and had gained 36 percent more body fat than control rats who had not been exposed to those toxic chemicals.

There are several ways in which toxicity can lead to chronic weight and health problems. These include impaired liver and thyroid functioning; damage to cellular mitochondria; disruption of brain neurotransmitters that affect our appetite; inflammation, which can lead to weight gain; and increased glucose (blood sugar) and cholesterol.

Dr. Arculeo spoke in favor of buying organic, antibiotic-free meat. When we eat commercially-produced meat that has been treated with chemicals, any remaining chemical additives left in the animal products will enter our systems.

The effects could lead to chronic disease, nerve damage, muscle damage and hormonal imbalances. While a vegetarian diet may seem like the best option, it does not guarantee safety from toxins, as chemicals can enter the body as pesticides sprayed on fruits or vegetables.

Triggering Fat-Burning Hormones

Toxins in the environment are one piece, albeit a crucial one, of the weight management puzzle. Dr. Arculeo identifies some other reasons why fat-burning hormones might not be triggered, causing weight gain and buildup of toxins.

Skipping meals and letting yourself get hungry: Skipping meals does not give your body the energy it needs to function. Skipping meals slows down your metabolism, causing your body to store food as fat, instead of burning it for energy.

Eating refined sugar, refined grains, and excess protein: Everything you eat is turned to sugar by your body – especially refined grains and simple carbohydrates. When you consume excess sugar, your body is overloaded and cannot metabolize it. That excess sugar is then stored as fat. Particularly, when the body is already dealing with sugar, the extra protein will be stored as fat.

Overeating: Overeating stresses the adrenal glands and will automatically put the body into starvation mode.

Consuming alcohol and caffeinated drinks: Alcohol is created from grains or sugars that wreak havoc on your natural sugar levels, as well as your metabolism. Alcohol feeds yeast, leading to an overgrowth of bad bacteria and a host of digestive problems. Caffeine is considered an appetite stimulant that triggers the body to increase its energy stores.

Lack of quality sleep or insufficient sleep: There is a critical time in the late night and early morning hours when fat-burning hormones are released, but this can only happen if you are asleep. If a body doesn’t sleep well, fat-storing hormones are produced.

Treatment of Toxin Burden

We have all heard about water and juice fasts that promise incredible results. It is not surprising that these diets cause more harm than good. They do not provide the level of nutrients needed during detoxification and can potentially lead to increases in free radical formation and cellular damage.

Instead, it is recommended that any detoxification program be supervised by a skilled nutritionist or nutritional health care practitioner.

Food and supplement choices can support detoxification. Organic food provides higher concentrations of protective detoxifying, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

The most effective foods to support detoxification include cruciferous vegetables, curcuminoids (turmeric and curry), green tea, and sulfur-containing proteins and foods (eggs, garlic, and onions).

Supplemental B6, folic acid, and B12 are essential. Zinc and selenium also facilitate detoxification as cofactors in the enzymes metallothionein and glutathione peroxidase.

N-acetyl-cysteine increases glutathione and historically has been used to treat depleted glutathione and liver failure from acetaminophen overdose.

Buffered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is important in detoxification and is associated with a reduction in lead levels.

Hyperthermic therapy, in the form of far-infrared saunas, has also been shown to assist with detoxification. For example, the Native American sweat lodge has long been used as a tool for physical, mental, and spiritual purification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that sauna therapy increases the excretion of fat soluble toxins and heavy metals.

When done properly, detoxification provides several benefits. It is a sound way to lay down a foundation of good bacteria and digestive enzymes, provides a clean slate, and can help motivate the continuation of healthy lifestyle changes.


Arculeo, Stephen. “Weight Loss and Detox.” Lecture. Aqua at Lakeshore East, Chicago. 15 Oct. 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Sept. 2014). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved 27 Oct. 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

Holtcamp, Wendee. “Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity.” Medscape (2012) Retrieved 27 Oct. 2014 from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/758210

Hyman, Mark A., MD. “Environmental Toxins, Obesity, and Diabetes: An Emerging Risk Factor.” Alternative Therapies Health Med 16 (2010): 56-58. Web. 27 Oct. 2014

World Health Organization (Aug. 2014). Obesity and Overweight. Retrieved 27 Oct. 2014 from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/

(NOTE: Shanti Nagarkatti is a freelance writer, researcher, and literacy educator/mentor based in Chicago. Nagarkatti’s background includes more than six years of marketing and business development experience in the professional engineering services industry. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis; a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; and has taken continuing education courses in writing at the University of Chicago Graham School. Nagarkatti’s column on natural medicine will appear regularly on PharmPsych.com’s News section.)

Last Updated: November 2014

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