I read that toxins make you fat.  Is this true?  What exactly do they mean by toxins?

A toxin is anything that your body doesn't recognise as ‘food'.  This includes the obvious things like chemicals and poisons.  It also includes things like alcohol and drugs and less obvious are the lab produced additives that we find in food and products, yes even that lovely air freshener is a toxin.

The term obsenogens has popped up in recent times and it relates to ‘toxins which stimulate obesity'.  The effect that each toxin has is largely unknown but we do know that toxins influence the endocrine system (hormones and hormone receptors) and the endocrine system controls, amongst other things metabolism and bodyweight.


Below is a basic partial list of major endocrine hormones and their functions (extract from Wikipedia)


Thyroid Stimulating Hormone - Stimulates T4 & T3 release from thyroid

T3 (Triiodothyronine)

Stimulates energy consumption & increases BMR

T4 (Thyroxine)

Stimulates energy consumption & increases BMR


Is released from fat cells, decreases appetite and increases metabolism


Secretion of stomach acids


Stimulates appetite

Neuropeptide Y

Increase food intake, decrease activity


Suppresses various gastro hormones, slows gastric emptying


Stimulates stomach acid secretion


Releases bile, hunger suppressant, releases pancreatic digestive enzymes


Enhances cholecytokinin, stops stomach acid production


Uptake of glucose, synthesis of triglycerides


Increase blood glucose


Stimulates fat breakdown in fat cells, inhibits glucose uptake

Adrenaline (epinephrine)

Suppresses non-essential bodily processes, eg digestion

Androgens (testosterone)

Growth of muscle, increase bone density.


Accelerate metabolism, increase cholesterol in bile


These hormones act as a ‘lock and key'.  They travel through the body ‘looking' for the hormone receptor which fits their shape, the hormone locks in place and exerts its action (as listed above). 

Here's where toxins come in.  An endocrine disruptor is a substance that acts like a hormone in the endocrine system and disrupts the normal processes.  Toxins are endocrine disruptors.  You may have heard of the following chemicals: DDT & Bisphenol A, these are two chemicals which have been proven to disrupt the endocrine system. 

Disruptions can occur in different ways, they may affect the number or performance of hormone receptors, they may affect the release of hormones or the level of circulating hormone...and there are plenty more ways.  Overall if a related hormone isn't performing as it should, then your metabolism isn't either.

Many toxins are fat soluble, this makes them to ‘latch on to fat'.  Toxins are processed by the liver and the overload travels through the body where they are stored in adipose (fat) tissue.  While toxins are sitting in your fat or liver cells, day after day, they are disrupting the endocrine system.  Leptin, one of the main hormones implicated in obesity is also stored in fat cells.  I don't know about you, but I don't really want toxins hanging out with my Leptin.  Toxins congest the liver, normally the liver will metabolise toxins into water soluble compounds for excretion, but an overload slows this process right down.  Try pouring water through an old sponge that's clogged up with food particles, some very old crusty particles might flake off while the rest just sit there stopping the flow of new water  - this is your poor liver under toxic overload. 

It's very clear how chemicals, drugs and alcohol influence the endocrine system, but less is known about how additives do, although most nutritionists agree that additives are toxins.  Suffice to say, the human body lives on carbohydrates, fat, protein, fibre, water, air, sunlight, vitamins and minerals, so in all honesty since additives aren't any of these things then they certainly can be considered toxins.

In addition, dietary toxins such as aspartame and MSG can stimulate food cravings which leads to over eating, and an accumulation of toxins can affect absorption of key nutrients which also stimulates food cravings as the body tries desperately to make you give it nutrients (Yes, you may crave chocolate, but that is NOT what your body is asking for).

The lemon detox diet and other fads are NOT going to fix the problem.  Correcting toxic load in the body is slightly more involved, but the rewards are huge - the main ones being a reduction in food cravings and an increase in your metabolism's effectiveness, of course translating to weight loss.

Stacey 2009

Can you tell me if soy products are good for me or not?  I hear that I shouldn't be having soy based products and just wondered why?

There is a very lengthy debate over the use and consumption of soy and soy products, and the short answer is yes they are and no they're not.

The major debate boils down to estradiol (one of the estrogens).  Estradiol has many hormonal functions including: breast development, reproductive organ growth, ovulation, endometrium preparation, pregnancy, fat structure, bone density, mood regulation, liver function, blood flow in certain blood vessels and it also plays a part In male reproduction.

Estradiol excess or deficiency can have a detrimental effect on human health. For example, excess estradiol can be linked to menstrual cramps, and diminished estradiol leads to lower bone density and osteoporosis (as seen in menopause).

Certain cancers (particular reproductive and breast) have a relationship with excess estradiol.

Estradiol works by linking to estrogen receptors in the body.  Once the receptor has received its estradiol, it 'shuts off' temporarily and the estradiol enters the cell. Problems in cellular estradiol occur when the receptors aren't working as they should or when the circulating levels of estradiol in the body are too high or low.

Here's where soy comes in.  Soy contains phytoestrogens (phyto meaning plant) in the form of isoflavones.  Phytoestrogens act in the same way as a human estrogens do in the body, they attach to estrogen receptors and fill the 'gap' that estradiol otherwise would.

This is good, according to research as soy isoflavones exert a less estrogenic effect than estradiol.  This means that if you have excess estradiol circulating, only some will enter the receptors since the soy isoflavones are already taking up some of the spaces.  This helps to lower excess cellular estradiol and therefore all the other problems that go with it - for example reducing the risk of breast cancer. 

The other side of the research coin says that this is bad as soy isoflavones increase total estrogens in the body and therefore lead to ailments of excess estrogen including an increased cancer risk.  But this is also good, if circulating estradiol is already low.  But then this is bad if low-estrogenic isoflavones take up the receptors, thus reducing cellular estradiol even further.

You can see how the pros and cons of soy consumption is such a grey area.

From a personal standpoint, I was told by a top NZ naturopath that if you experience heavy menstrual cramps and other PMS symptoms to avoid soy.  I suffered painfully sore breasts for about 15 years, and decided to cut my daily soy latte and intake of soy derived products and have not had a single problem since.  Needless to say I was pretty well blown away.

It is this effect on the female hormones which has men scratching their heads over soy also.  It is thought that too much soy increases estrogen output in men.

Research attesting to the safety of soy is often funded by the soy and pharmaceutical industries, research against is often funded by those who are affected by soy consumption (eg dairy and meat industries).  The debate continues to rage.

Despite the hormonal argument, soy is however, quite nutritious, it is a complete protein and can be used in place of meat without being deficient in any amino acids, contains omega 3 & 6 fatty acids and helps to lower cholesterol.  The presence of sphingolipids in soy are reported to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

If your family cancer risk is low and you don't suffer from estrogen related problems then there is no reason why you can't include soy as part of a balanced diet.  If you are a high soy consumer and experience problems surrounding the reproductive system (endo, pmt, difficulty with pregnancy etc) you may want to look at cutting soy to see if symptoms improve.

Stacey 2009

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