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Pollution is an important factor in the world epidemics of type 2 diabetes and obesity. But other aspects of modern lifestyles make the problem even worse.
Back in the era when milk and soft drinks came in glass bottles, and meat and produce were wrapped in paper, and nobody ever popped a frozen meal into a microwave, type 2 diabetes was a very rare condition. Less than 10% of the population was obese.
In the modern era, almost all bottles and jars are made of plastic, and even cans and tin foil packages are closed with a plastic sealant. Plastic trays are used to hold food that goes into microwaves in homes, in offices, and even in restaurants. Nearly 300,000,000 people world wide have type 2 diabetes. In some countries over 50% are obese.

Do you suppose that the nearly universal use of plastics might have anything to do with either trend? Plastics are useful because they can be poured into almost any kind of mold for any kind of shape or thickness. The final step in the production of a plastic container or utensil usually involves the addition of a chemical called bisphenol-A, also known as BPA. This chemical hardens the plastic so the product assumes its final shape.

BPA makes plastics last. Unfortunately, it also lingers and accumulates in the environment when plastic bags, boxes, eating utensils, plates, toys, and household items are placed into landfills. And since BPA is also added to cardboard and paper products, nearly every person on the planet is exposed to BPA all the time. Nearly all of us have BPA in our bloodstreams. BPA has a molecular shape that makes it fit like a key into two "locks" on the surfaces of fat cells, receptors that are ordinarily stimulated when they receive a group of hormones known as peroxisome proliferator receptor agonists (which is a fancy way of saying that these hormones increase the production of peroxisomes inside the mitochondria of cells so they can store more fat) and the receptor for vitamin A.

If you have ever used vitamin A or retinol in skin care products, you know that it stimulates growth in the skin. The same thing happens in fat cells. BPA, however, doesn't just rev up a fat cell's ability to store fat. It also can transform stem cells (even adults have stem cells for making new blood and bone) into fat cells.

Exposure to BPA does not automatically make people obese. It just creates an army of new fat cells ready and waiting for every extra calorie. And as for how BPA makes people obese, some new research shows that symbiotic bacteria are involved.

Everyone's intestinal tract hosts not just billions or trillions or even quadrillions but quintillions of bacteria. Some are harmful, and some of helpful. Bacteria of the Firmicutes genus tend to generate signals to the body to inflame belly fat. This makes belly fat swell (sometimes about 1/3 of its volume) and it also makes it more difficult for the body to take sugar out of the bloodstream for storage as fat. Firmicutes are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. And chemicals like BPA can kill the bacteria that compete with Firmicutes and keep them in check.

So, there's a three-fold problem with BPA. It causes the growth of new fat cells just waiting to pack away every calorie that comes their way. It protects pathogenic bacteria that can cause inflammation that can make belly fat and buttocks fat swell. And it indirectly interferes with the ability of fat to take sugar out of circulation. But there are at least nine more explanations for the obesity epidemic.
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