Learning From Fat Mice

The more I face change and attempt to explain it to others, the more I realize that wisdom and understanding are totally different things. You may be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the ability to understand may make you like Paul Revere’s ride. You know, a little light in the belfry. But if you hang around long enough, change is inevitable, except from a vending machine, as we all have experienced.

Just the other day I had the opportunity to learn another new word that someone was using as an explanation to why some of us gain weight. Of course none of us wish to admit that any extra pounds come from eating something that tastes good and we are always seeking ways to explain why the material in our clothes has changed due to new methods of dry cleaning being used these days. But WMSR Radio just may have found a source that agrees with that explanation of chemical change. The word “obesogens” is now being used to describe chemicals that contribute to fat accumulation and these things are not just being found in the food you eat either.

It seems a study has been done that links some chemicals that disrupt hormones changing the cellular pathways to accumulate fat. They say these “obesogens” as they call them can be found in electronics, packaging, nonstick cookware and a lot more things we use everyday. The institute that did the study suggests that these “obesogens” are why we are seeing our population becoming overweight and obese these days.

Their report contains a lot of information and the study involved taking chemicals from metal storage cans and other items with the exposure of the chemicals being performed on mice. The outcome was that the offspring of the mice have bigger fat cells. I don’t know the amount of chemical taken from the cans or the amount given to the mice, which brings me back to another time when the “gens” term was first put into heavy use.

Back in 1958, when the United States Congress passed legislation to keep “carcinogens” out of our food supply, everyone jumped on the bandwagon to remove these things from everything we touched or ate. It was assumed at that time that carcinogens were rarely found in foods and were put there by humans, either purposefully, through food additives, or inadvertently in the form of pesticide residues.

People then began promoting natural foods and testing large amounts of food items on rats. The rats developed cancer from the foods, but primarily because of the amounts that they were fed. In the intervening years, it has become clear that naturally occurring chemicals, chemicals that are plentiful in the food supply, but not put there by man, can cause cancer in rodents when fed in high doses over a lifetime. These feedings in many cases were 10,000 times higher than human intake of synthetic pesticides or additives that had been designated as rodent carcinogens.

Many of the foods we eat daily contain rodent carcinogens naturally. For example, one rodent carcinogen is furfural. Furfural is found in many of the breads we eat and when fed to rats in large amounts it can cause cancer. However, when you take into account the difference in body weight between a human and a rat, based on the carcinogenicity data available from the laboratory, a person would have to eat 82,600 slices of bread per day for years to equal the amount of furfural that increased the risk of cancer in rats.

It is impossible to remove from our food supply every known trace of every natural chemical that tests positive in high-dose rat tests. There are those who want “zero exposure” from carcinogens, which most of us understand would be totally out of the question.

Since 1958, we have come a long way in cancer research with still a very long way to go. I’m sure in the field of “obesogens” that study is also on a long road of study. There for a while in the early days of carcinogens, we had the “carcinogen of the week” scare. I just hope we avoid this with “obesogens” by studying our lessons and recognizing the facts of sound science.

Above all, do what our teachers and mothers have told us for years. Work on our dietary patterns, eat more fruits and vegetables along with the rest of the other food groups, and don’t panic over a fat rat that ate too many chemical laden cup cakes.  


– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.  He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com