You exercise, watch your portion sizes, go for plenty of walks and follow all the fat loss tips in your favourite health magazine... but you can't quite shake that pocket of fat under the arms or around the belly...
You're not alone. Your stubborn fat issues are not a result of too little exercise or over eating, instead they're a product of a toxins - toxins from your diet, from your home, from your environment.
As I'm going to share with you below, toxins make you fat. Worse, toxins keep you fat.
Note: If you're looking for practical take-aways on what toxins you should avoid and how to improve your own detoxification processes, be sure to download my FREE report here.
We already know that fat loss isn't simply a matter of eating less and exercising more (I cover this in my article The Problem With Counting Calories For Fat Loss).
But toxins causing fat gain? That my be a stretch right? Wong.
How can this be the case? How can toxins found in our food, air, water and environment lead to fat gain (and inhibit fat loss) irrespective of the amount of food we eat?
You might be surprised by the answer, but it's actually a defence mechanism that has our health in it's best interest. We get fat in the name of health...
When the body is exposed to large amounts of toxins, levels that the body cannot safely excrete (through the bodies natural detoxification pathways) it stores these toxins in adipose tissue (aka body fat).
The body does this to protect us from the toxicity issues arising from these harmful chemicals. If the levels of a certain toxin were to become too high - overburdening our liver - we would become sick, or worse... die.
More than simply a stored energy source, body fat is also a site to store toxins.
So how does the body naturally process these toxins? And what exactly is a toxin anyway?
Toxins can be split into two groups.
Fat soluble toxins and water soluble toxins.
The water soluble toxins are easily handled by the body. With the help of our kidneys we can excrete these through our urine, sweat and bile. This is often called the phase II detoxification pathway.
Fat soluble toxins are a little bit harder to eliminate. These fat soluble toxins include heavy metals, man-made chemicals, pesticides, pollutants, plastics and more. All the common 'toxins' you and I think of.
For the body to eliminate these toxins, they have to be processed by the liver to become water soluble. Our Phase I detoxification pathway is the process of converting these fat soluble toxins into water soluble toxins for excretion in phase II.
Therefore the liver plays an important role in protecting our health and determining our toxin load.
The liver produces a substance called bile (which is stored in the gall bladder). Bile has numerous roles in the body, one of which is digesting fats and another is to aid in toxin elimination - helping us eliminate toxins through our poop.
In the case of an unhealthy digestive system, or a congested lymphatic system, these toxins cannot be processed effectively. Likewise when the liver is under a lot of load the bile it produces is thicker and less effective and in turn the unbound fat soluble toxins are sent back into the blood.
And this is when our toxin to body fat mechanism kicks in.
Research has proven that a build up of toxins in the body can bypass liver processing and end up stored in body fat issue. These sites of accumulation can be considered as storage depots. Just like a manufacturing plant will store toxin waste in a warehouse until a truck can come and take them away for processing.
By removing the free roaming toxins from the body and locking them up in fat, the organs and tissues are protected from damage (3-6). But there is a downside, not only does this cause unsightly and unhealthy body fat, but these bound up toxins can cause inflammation and health issues in the body and brain (1,2).
And I have bad news for those seeking to lose body fat for aesthetic reasons, these stored toxins likely to be stored in subcantneous fat - fat under the skin (7).
But of course this short term safety mechanism only works if it’s used properly. If the toxin exposure continues - which it does for many of us in modern society - then the backlog continues to grow. The bodies detoxification systems never get a chance to catch up… and of course, our body fat levels continue to grow and as health declines.
We now know that toxins can be stored in body fat tissue. And that these stored toxins - now out of our circulation - can still cause health issues in the body.
But for those of us who are seeking to lose extra weight, storing toxins as fat is just the start of the problem.
These stored toxic compounds are leading to metabolic damage - mitochondria function is disrupted for example. Fat tissue levels affect our endocrine system, impacting appetite hormones such as leptin. And our beta calls (which produce insulin) take a hit leading to insulin resistance.
I explain the mechanisms behind these issues later in the piece, but you need to note that even though the toxins are bound up in body fat, they are still impacting our health.
Another issue is around removing these stored toxins. As I eluded to earlier, this storage mechanism is is meant to be used as a short term tool. Once the liver and digestive system is capable of handling a higher toxin load, these stored toxins can then be released to be processed by the body.
But if the liver is still under great load (or is not functioning properly) then these stored toxins will not be released from the fat tissue. All the hard training and excessive dieting in the world will not get rid of the body fat thats protecting the locked up toxins.
This is why you will often see skinny people who claim 'they can eat anything and never get fat' start developing fat pockets around their belly as they get older. Sure they're genetically and hormonally blessed to keep a lean frame, but their toxin laden diet and environment is causing a build up of chemical compounds in the body.
Compounds that overburden the liver and are shunted away to fat tissue. These typically skinny people start growing a spare tire around their waist. And when they cut portion sizes or start exercising more, they soon realise this fat gain won't go away.
The increasing fat levels are not there due to over eating or lack of exercise, they're there because of a high toxin load in the body. The body needs the fat to store the toxins. Calorie deprivation or not.
The incoming toxin load must be reduced, while the bodies natural detoxification processes (through improved liver health, better digestion, more seep etc) are improved.
Only when this happens will the body eventually be able to 'clear the backlog' of stored toxins.
Speaking of exercise... as a health coach I often hear stories from new clients about rapid fat loss diets they have experimented with in the past. The stories follow a similar pattern:
Of course they then put all the weight back on and wonder if they will ever lose weight.
The problem with these stories is not the diet they go on (though it's far from perfect, but I'll save that for another blog), it's the speed at which they change combined with the lack of understanding around what's going on.
The new diet isn't causing them sick - they're not allergic to organic food (though a lot of the symptoms would indicate this!) What's happening is they have reduced their toxin load from the body (they're not following their old diet), while increasing activity and blood flow.
All is well in the first few weeks, and then guess what happens? Their health slowly starts to improve, their incoming toxin load is reduced, so the body can start clearing out the toxins stored in body fat.
These stored toxins are now released back into the body to be processed. But this triggers the same health problems as if the toxins are just been ingested. Of course this causes confusion and frustration for the dieter who has only just started their health crusade.
And eventually they give up as it's too hard, or they're suffering too much, or they simply don't understand why they feel worst on their healthy diet than they did on their old junk food diet!
This fat loss, leading to toxic illness overload isn't just a nice theory I have come up with. It's a proven fact (8, 9, 10). A paper published in 2000 concluded:
Body weight loss increases plasma and subcutaneous adipose tissue concentrations of organochlorine pesticides and PCBs in obese subjects. These results raise concerns about an undesired and potentially harmful side effect of weight loss in some obese patients who seem to be at greater risk of health problems than leaner subjects since they show higher organochlorine body burden (11).
If the dieter knew this was happening maybe they would have continued on their journey.
Or better yet, if the protocol they were following ensured their detoxification pathways were supported (by focusing on improving liver health and digestion support), activity at the beginning was limited, and a longer term view was taken to fat loss and health (6 months instead of 6 weeks) then the dieter may not even suffer through these horrible toxicity issues in the first place.
This is the approach I use in my Hormone Reset Program - fix the foundations first, work with the body, focus on health and fat loss will come. Oh and take a longer term view. My clients get amazing results without wild health swings.
Now you can see why toxins in our diet and environment can not only make us fat, but they can keep us fat.
Let's summarise our findings so far:
What are these problematic toxins I talk about? And how are they making their way into our body (and body fat)?
Below I have listed the most problematic commonly found toxins we are exposed to or ingest.
Glyphosate, also known as Roundup, is the most commonly used herbicide in the world. As a result, it's everywhere. In our soil, in our water and of course, it's in our food (12).
I have written extensively about the dangers of glyphosate in my 3 part series (you can read part one here). The takeaway from these articles - if you are concerned about your health or the health of your love ones, then eat organic!
But this is an article about toxins and fat loss, so whats the deal with glyphosate? Firstly it's been well documented to do irreversible liver damage (13). Our liver is our first line of defence against ingested toxin exposure - what cannot be processed by the liver is shunted away to be stored as fat.
Likewise it has been shown to cause gut damage and dysbiosis (13). Dr Stephanie Seneff - one of the worlds leading experts on the dangers of glyphosate - has shown that glyphosate exposure inhibits cytochrome P450.
Cytochrome P450 helps the bodies detoxification processes. Based on this finding she remarks:
Negative impact of this cytochrome is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes...
Glyphosate is not only a prevalent chemical toxin found in our food and water, it damages the liver and disrupts our detoxification processes.
POPs include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (PCDDs/PCDFs), and polybrominated biphenyls and diphenyl ethers (PBBs/PBDEs). Though these are now banned in most countries across the world, they still cause issues for humans seeking to minimise their toxicity load.
Why? Because they are persistent! They are resistant to biodegradation and have made their way into our air, water, soils and food.
As the authors of the paper titled 'Adipose Tissue as a Site of Toxin Accumulation' remarked:
'Exposure to these toxicants is inevitable'
They go on to explain that these POP's are lipophilic (they bind easily with fat) and accumulate heavily in fat tissue, resulting in 'greater body burdens of these environmental toxins with obesity'.
This is a two fold problem, not only do POP's easily make their way into our body fat tissue, but they easily find their way into the fat tissue of the animals we eat.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a great paper on POP's titled Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response which explains this issue in more detail (Note, I highly recommend reading this paper a long with my articles on glyphosate if you are interested in learning more about toxins in our environment.)
The EPA reports how POPs bioaccumulate - they move up the food chain increasing in concentration. Farmed salmon are one such example with extremely high levels of POPs.
Farmed fish are fed 'fish feed' that contains GMO crops (high in glyphosate) and ground up fish carcasses. Carcasses that are already high in POP's and other toxins. You can see how this concentration effect works. Humans then come along and eat this fish and the oil from this fish.
Despite the marketing hype around this 'healthy fish oil', it's actually laden in toxic POPs that are making us sick and fat.
The same thing happens with other animal products. For example: Beef, pork and poultry confined to feedlots fed GMO grains etc. Animals grazing on land that has been exposed to dumped waste. Milk from cows feed toxic supplemental feed... Its the same problem just in different settings.
The chemical pollutants make their way into the fat tissue of the animal. We then eat this animal toxin containing tissue. We get sick and fat.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for eating animal fat and I'm definitely not promoting a vegan diet. I just want to make it clear that eating quality food is critical if you are looking to drop stubborn body fat and have a healthy body.
Expanding on from the POPs toxin issue, I wanted to take a closer look at the worst toxic POP's that we are exposed to:
If it's synthetic - it's most likely doing harm to the body and increasing your toxin load.
I touched on phthalates and BPA above, but I wanted to make it clear that ingestion of food or liquids that is exposed to plastic has been linked to increased toxin load and fat levels in the body.
A study done on mice showed that exposure to BPA in their feed lead to increased body fat levels, irrespective of total calories eaten (23).
And a 2016 paper found that even small exposure to BPA increased the risk of developing obesity related illnesses (24).
Plastic is cheap and convenient - but if fat loss is your goal, minimise use of plastic especially around food and beverages.
So far we have looked at synthetic chemicals and their toxicity issues. But these aren't the only compounds increasing the toxin load on our body and making us fat. Heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead are naturally occurring but are also concentrated in things such as dental fillings, vaccines and water.
A healthy digestion system, liver and efficient detoxification pathways can help deal with small amounts of heavy metal exposure. But when we start using these metals in our teeth or injecting them into our body the toxic load reaches a point where the bodies natural protection mechanisms cannot keep up.
Minimise your exposure to heavy metal toxins, and ensure you do everything you can to support the bodies ability to remove these metals.
Finally, it's important to note that it's not just the toxins we ingest or are exposed to. Our own body can produce fat causing toxins from within.
The gut is one of the worst offenders here. Stress, poor diet, infection, parasites, excessive antibiotic issue can all lead to gut dysbiosis.
This in turn can lead to fermentation and toxic gasses being produced in the gut and bowels. In a healthy body these amounts will be low and can be excreted naturally. But if levels become too high they can increase the toxin load on the body from within.
Though it is important to live in a healthy environment and eat a healthy organic diet, it is just as important to ensure your body is functionally properly internally!
Health starts with the gut. And a broken gut will cause all sorts of health and fat loss problems.
As you can see these chemicals are in the bed we sleep on, the bottle we drink out of, the fish we consume and the dirt with play in. And these same chemicals contribute towards our toxin load and our body fat levels.
This list isn't meant to scare you, it is important to remember that the body has it's own defence and detoxification mechanisms.
The issue around fat gain arises when the body cannot keep up with the incoming toxic load.
As for what you can do to reduce these stored toxins in the body, I have created a simple one page guide that shows you what you need to reduce or eliminate from your life (and diet). And what you need to start doing to support the bodies natural detoxification processes.
You can download this guide HERE.
It is important to note that the stored toxins are not released until lipolysis (fat breakdown) occurs. Sure there are some ways you can speed up this process (link to unconventional fat gain and suanas) but you have to be careful not to release too many toxins into the body without having the support structures in place.
For this reason I recommend taking a slower, longer term view - aim to reduce your toxin load, improve detoxification capacity and let the body process the newly released toxins in a stress free period. This is exactly what I do on my Hormone Reset program. You can learn more about that HERE.
Otherwise be sure to download my FREE 1 page guide by clicking HERE.
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is an ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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