LOS ANGELES — New research indicates that some of the most common preservatives found in popular foods and household products may disrupt human hormones and lead to obesity.
In the study, researchers from Cedars-Sinai Hospital used human stem cell-grown tissues capable of producing hormones and tested three chemical preservatives on them: butylhydroxytoluene (BHT), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and tributyltin (TBT).
BHT is commonly found in many breakfast cereals, while PFOA is used in cookware and carpeting. TBT is used in paint, but often contaminates seafood because improper disposal causes it to seep into waterways.
Chemicals like the ones used in this study are known as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors can interfere with our hormonal routines. At certain doses, they may even lead to cancerous tumors and other developmental disorders.
The researchers exposed the tissues to each chemical one by one, and then in combination. They found that hormonal signaling networks were disrupted and ineffective.
“We discovered that each of these chemicals damaged hormones that communicate between the gut and the brain,” says Dr. Dhruv Sareen, an assistant professor of biomedical science, and one of the study’s authors and principal investigator, in a press release. “When we tested the three together, the combined stress was more robust.”
That means that the chemicals would prevent a person’s digestive system from telling the brain that its full, thus leading a person to eat more than they should.
They also noted that chemicals caused damage to mitochondria. Mitochondria are cellular bodies that help convert food and oxygen into energy.
Sareen also notes that these detriments can lead to birth defects. He warns that pregnant women should be wary of processed foods they eat that contain the chemicals. “Because the chemical damage occurred in early-stage ‘young’ cells, the findings suggest that a defective hormone system could impact a pregnant woman as well as her fetus in the womb,” he says.
Experts the study for being the first to use human stem cells to show how preservatives can affect a person’s ability to feel full when eating. Previous research had only been tested on animals.
“This is a landmark study that substantially improves our understanding of how endocrine disruptors may damage human hormonal systems and contribute to the obesity epidemic,” said Clive Svendsen, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute.
The study’s findings were published earlier this month in the journal Nature Communications.