Exposure to chemicals found in everyday products like plastics, soap or nail polish may affect the amount of fat stored in the body, a new study has claimed.Phthalates are chemicals that give plastic its bendy stretch. However, research shows that these chemicals could be harming people’s health.
“Phthalate exposure can be closely associated with the rise of different types of disease development,” said the study’s lead author Lei Yin, from the University of Georgia (UGA).
Because levels of phthalates were found in human fluids in previous studies, the researchers wanted to see if a specific phthalate, benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) had an effect on the accumulation of fat in cells.
The researchers used mouse cells to create in vitro models to analyse how exposure to BBP affected the way oils and fats, known as lipids, accumulated within the cells.
“Obesity is one of the big issues in humans now, and of course genetic components can contribute to the development of obesity,” said Xiaozhong Yu, an assistant professor at UGA.
“However, environmental exposure may also contribute to obesity,” said Yu.
Some phthalates have proven to cause reproductive toxicity at high levels of exposure, but the link between low-level exposure and BBP hadn’t yet been thoroughly explored, Yin said.
“It could be that some chemicals at a very low dose and over a long period time, which is known as chronic exposure, can cause more harmful diseases or effects,” she said.
The researchers quantified lipid droplet accumulation using traditional staining approaches, in which the cells are stained and therefore can be visually assessed under a microscope, and a newer approach called cellomics high-content analysis.
This high-content screening uses “image processing algorithms, computer machine learning and can measure the multiple parameters in a fast and objective way,” Yin said.
The results of BBP’s effects were compared with bisphenol A (BPA), an environmental endocrine disruptor that is known for its role in adipogenesis, or how fat cells develop.
BBP caused a response in the cells that is similar to BPA. Both chemicals prompt the accumulation of lipid droplets.
However, the droplets from BBP-treated cells were larger, something that suggests BBP exposure may lead to obesity.
Although the findings cannot be directly generalised to the human population, they do give an indication of a possible link between exposure to BBP and obesity, something that could affect human health.