Ask Dr. Salerno Health

Air Pollution, Gut Bacteria and Sleep Deprivation – The Increasing Causes of Obesity

Causes Of ObesityObesity is not only a problem in USA but has been increasing worldwide. Obesity is a complex condition. Studies are now showing that certain exposures or conditions can change the body’s metabolism, change the concentration of bacteria in the intestines and can also alter the hormonal balance in the body, which can all lead to obesity.

A recent study in Journal of the American Medical Association found that children, who had higher levels of a chemical bisphenol A in the urine, were more likely to suffer from being overweight. Bisphenol A is found in food packaging, toys, cash register receipts, metal based drinks and food products, hence hard to avoid.

Common explanations for developing obesity include inactivity and poor food choices. But today, scientists are looking at other causes linking to obesity. Of them air pollution, gut bacteria and sleep deprivation are discussed below.

  1. Air pollution – research studies have shown that the air pregnant women breathe can predispose the fetus to developing obesity in future. Women living in New York City, who were exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) at high concentrations were twice more likely to have children who developed obesity by age 7. Several ways a woman can get exposed to PAH is by breathing in fumes of burning coal, oil, gas, tobacco, garbage, candles and home heating fuels.
  2. Gut bacteria – the bacteria in the intestines play an important role in digestion of nutrients. Studies from New York University School of Medicine published in International Journal of Obesity have shown that babies exposed to antibiotics prior to 6 months of age were more likely to be overweight or obese as toddler. The study also showed that age at which the exposure happened also played a role. Children who received antibiotics between 6 months and 14 months of age did not show the same effect. Additionally, a study in Obesity Review has shown that increasing consumption of fructose and artificial sweeteners affect the intestinal bacteria leading to obesity and metabolic disorders. Fructose, found in wide variety of products such as honey, corn syrup, table sugar, fruit juice and vegetables reduces the intestinal bacterial diversity.
  3. Sleep deprivation – according to a study done in American Journal of Human Biology, sleep deprivation makes people irritable and also alters the circulating levels of hormones associated with appetite. The levels of a hormone ghrelin that stimulates appetite is higher, while the levels of a hormone leptin that leads to fullness is decreased in a sleep deprived individual. People who were deprived of sleep also had high cravings for calorie dense food. Study in Journal Science Transitional Medicine has shown that people with a lack of sleep burned less calories when doing nothing. The study showed that people who receive less than 5-6 hours of sleep a night have altered circadian rhythms and increased amount of blood glucose after meals. This high blood sugar in turn increases the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus which is very closely associated with obesity. The study also showed that volunteers who were sleep recovered during a 9 day period had their circadian rhythms as well as metabolism normalized.

Obesity is a complex process associated with multitude of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes to name a few. We as consumers have to be aware of what additives are added in the food, consume organic food low in carbohydrate and purify the air we breathe and water we drink. Taking these steps will help with maintaining a healthy and optimal life.