Pesticide used to clean fruits and vegetables may cause obesity, study finds

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Experts say chlorpyrifos can affect the body’s ability to burn calories

Previous studies have highlighted the health risks associated with the use of pesticides. Now, researchers from McMaster University explored how a commonly used pesticide may be impacting obesity rates around the world. 

Their work showed that chlorpyrifos  --a pesticide banned in Canada that is used to clean fruits and vegetables -- may prohibit the body from burning calories, leading to weight gain

“Lifestyle changes around diet and exercise rarely lead to sustained weight loss,” said researcher Gregory Steinberg. “We think part of the problem may be this intrinsic dialing back of the metabolic furnace by chlorpyrifos.” 

The impact on metabolism

The researchers conducted a study on mice to determine how pesticides can impact metabolism, weight gain, and obesity. They gave the mice high-fat diets and then analyzed how exposure to chlorpyrifos affected their health outcomes. They also paid close attention to brown fat cells, which are the cells that aid in burning calories and weight loss. 

Ultimately, the researchers found that chlorpyrifos altered the normal function of brown fat cells. Rather than burning calories, exposure to the pesticide made the mice more likely to store extra calories, which is likely to contribute to weight gain and obesity

“Brown fat is the metabolic furnace in our body, burning calories, unlike normal fat that is used to store them,” Steinberg said. “This generates heat and prevents calories from being deposited on our bodies as normal white fat. We know brown fat is activated during cold and when we eat.” 

Though the study was conducted on mice, the researchers believe the findings can translate to human metabolisms. They explained that an extra five pounds of weight gain each year can greatly increase the risk of obesity. Unfortunately, putting on that much weight isn’t hard. Storing only 40 extra calories per day through chlorpyrifos exposure would be enough to do the trick.

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