Does This Couch Make Me Look Fat?
“Does the dress make me look fat?” is a common refrain from many women’s lips. Sometimes it’s new jeans. Or whatever. But emerging research begs a more pertinent question: “Does this couch make me look fat?”
It just might.
That’s because it probably harbors toxic flame retardant chemicals. Use of these chemicals was mandated decades ago in response to lobbying by the tobacco and chemical industries. Tobacco was responsible for an alarming number of home fires. Smokers had a habit of falling asleep on the sofa, setting it alight. Rather than succumb to pressure to restrict sales of their demonstrably unsafe products, tobacco lobbyists pointed the finger, instead, at furniture manufacturers.
They successfully diverted attention from their own inherently deadly products towards mattress, carpet padding, and sofa manufacturers. Ever since, the government has mandated that these common household items be lacedwith chemicals intended to render them fire resistant. Sadly, there’s little evidence that these chemicals actually prevent fires. In fact, according to a recent series of investigative reports by the Chicago Tribune newspaper, furniture laced with these chemicals burns just as readily as chemical-free furniture.
Even worse, there’s mounting evidence that the chemicals are making us ill.
In fact, according to research to be presented at the Experimental Biology annual meeting in Boston, in late March, these chemicals are getting into people’s bloodstreams, where they travel to the liver and cause metabolic harm. Specifically, say researchers, they promote insulin insensitivity—which leads to obesity. In effect, argue researchers from the University of New Hampshire, our couches are making us fat. And not just because we’re spending too much time sitting on them.
The problem has to do with common flame retardant chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which disrupt normal metabolism and cause enlarged livers, at least in rats. Animals exposed to the chemicals also develop insulin resistance and become obese. Instead of responding to insulin, as they should, animals’ cells became sensitized to adrenalin (epinephrine). “Those two features – insulin resistance and epinephrine sensitivity – are two features of fat cells from people who are above normal weight,” says researcher Gale Carey.
“Despite the plethora of resources devoted to understanding the roles of diet and exercise in the obesity epidemic,” says Carey, “This epidemic continues to escalate, suggesting that other environmental factors may be involved. At the biochemical level there is a growing body of experimental evidence suggesting certain environmental chemicals, or ‘obesogens’, could disrupt the body's metabolism and contribute to the obesity epidemic.”
Previously, Carey showed that these obesity-causing flame-retardant chemicals are present in American mothers’ breast milk at concentrations that are two orders of magnitude higher than in the breast milk of mothers from European countries, where the chemicals are banned.
In my book, True Nutrition—European Secrets for American Women, I discuss ways you can avoid these obesity-causing chemicals in your home.