House dust causes fat gain? I know it may seem far-fetched, but those little dust bunnies hiding under your couch are housing much more than pesky pet hair and microscopic pieces of dirt.
A 2017 study published in Environmental Science & Technology suggests everyday household chemicals lurking in dust could be acting as obesogens — obesity–promoting compounds that promote fat storage in the body. In fact, dust exposure may be powerful enough to disrupt metabolic health, especially in kids. Exposure during critical points of development could set a person up for weight gain and obesity decades later.
Could it be that your weight is determined by more than the simple “calories in, calories out” equation? It looks that way.
House Dust Causes Fat Gain
It’s abundantly clear that eating too many calories of the standard American diet and too much sitting can lead to excess weight. But pollution hiding in dust inside of the home? Well, that may be a factor, too.
And when you really think about it, we’re all kind of guinea pigs in this grand experiment, since most of our ancestors didn’t have to deal with these types of exposures. Chemical use exploded after World War II. Since then, we’ve been bombarded by more than 80,000 chemicals. (1) Only about 20,000 of them have been tested for long-term impacts on human health; many of them are suspected or proven hormone disruptors. (2)
And today’s generation is facing unprecedented exposures. In the 1970s, global plastic production hovered around 50 million tons. Today, it’s about 300 million tons. Chemical industry sales now hit $4 trillion annually. With the rise in use, we’re also detecting harmful hormone-disrupting chemicals inside of human blood, fat, umbilical cord blood and urine, too. It’s no surprise as more chemicals are released into the environment, there’s been a sharp increase in endocrine-related health disorders in humans and animals. (3)
The recent Duke University study researched how house dust causes fat gain by looking at household dust samples and found that, in a lab dish, even tiny amounts of endocrine disruptors in dust caused fat cells from rats to accumulate more fat. (4)
These chemicals are found in everything from phthalates in shower curtains and air fresheners and candles to flame retardants in sofas and electronics. BPA toxic effects are also found in certain plastics, canned food and cash register receipts. These chemicals readily wind up in household dust that can be inhaled, absorbed or ingested.
The groundbreaking study turned up some eye-opening results: (5)
- After collecting and testing samples of indoor dust from 11 U.S. homes, scientists exposed the samples to mouse fat cells. Seven of the 11 samples caused the pre-fat cells to change into mature fat cells. Nine dust samples caused the cells to divide, creating a larger amount of fat cells.
- Pyraclostrobin (a fungicide), the flame-retardant TBPDP and the plasticizer DBP produced the most powerful fat-producing effects.
- Amounts of dust as low as 3 micrograms caused measurable effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that kids ingest much more than that daily.
According to researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, hormone-disrupting chemicals “interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, activity or elimination of natural hormones. This interference can block or mimic hormone action, causing a wide range of effects.” (6)
Here’s a list of health problems associated with exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals:
- Testicular cancer
- Early female puberty
- Childhood cancers
- Neurobehavioral problems
- Uterine fibroids
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Male & female infertility
- Breast, prostate and ovarian cancers
- Low testosterone
- Poor sperm quality
How to Avoid Common Chemicals Lurking in Dust
Vacuum with a HEPA. Make sure your vacuum is equipped with a HEPA filter and empty it outside. You may want to invest in a high-quality air filter, like one from IQ Air. (Beware of ones that create ozone.)
Take your shoes off at the door. This helps reduce the amount of pesticides you track into the house.
Avoid vinyl and synthetic scents. Hormone-disrupting phthalates hide out in vinyl flooring and plastics and in fake fragrances. Use pure, organic essential oils or opt for fragrance-free products. And ditch scented candles. Use beeswax instead.
Demand stronger chemical laws. Clearly, U.S. laws aren’t protecting citizens from chemicals, including hormone-disrupting ones. These lax laws are costing taxpayers big time, too. Long-term, low-level exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals costs the United States $340 billion in health care and lost wages annually. (7)
House Dust Causes Fat Gain: Final Thoughts
- A Duke University-led study found exposure to even tiny amounts of hormone-disrupting chemicals commonly found in dust can prompt fat cells to store more fat.
- Many of these hormone-disrupting chemicals are known as “obesogens.”
- Exposure to hormone disruptors at critical points of development can reprogram the body’s endocrine system in an abnormal, unhealthy way. Sometimes, an exposure early in life won’t translate into disease until decades later.
- Industries have released about 80,000 different man-made chemicals into the environment since World War II, yet only about 20,000 have been tested for long-term impact on human health.
- Current chemical laws don’t properly protect us from hormone-disrupting chemicals.
- The sharp rise in chemical use is paralleled by a sharp increase in endocrine-related diseases.
- Better laws are needed to truly keep toxic chemicals out of our homes, drinking water, air and soil. Until that happens, you can focus on eating fresh foods instead of canned; say no to trivial cash register receipts; avoid plastic whenever possible; and look for furniture made without flame retardant chemicals.