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Eliminating “Forever Chemicals” as Part of Your Post-op Weight Loss Plan

two plastic takeout containers in-front of blue backdrop

You have undoubtedly received plenty of advice on diet and exercise. You have a post-operative manual from your practice, giving you the blueprint for how to lose weight consistently and safely over time. You are also motivated, partly by your decision to have weight loss surgery, but also because you’ve seen the dramatic results early on. However, calories in and out may not always be the end of the story, and we must look at the weight loss process overall to give ourselves the best chance to lose weight quickly and maintain that weight loss over the long term.

“Forever Chemicals” and Endocrine Disruption

The endocrine system is a complex and finely-tuned conglomeration of hormones that keep your body running as it should. This balance can be thrown off by obesity and the hormonal changes caused by visceral fat, the abdominal fat that accumulates around your waist. That said, the endocrine system can also be disrupted by certain chemicals that we now find have significant effects on our bodies and hormones. One such chemical group is PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These chemicals are a collection of about 30,000 different substances, though we can only detect a small fraction with standard testing processes. The Danish government has been at the forefront of researching and ultimately limiting the use of these chemicals, commonly found in food packaging. Why would these chemicals be used? They give boxes, wrappers, and bags the oil and water-resistant properties often needed in the fast food and take-out industries.

What Are the Effects of PFAS?

A recent Danish study has investigated the effects of PFAS on the developing fetus during the first trimester. Approximately 800 Danish women had their blood drawn between 1996 and 2002 during the first trimester of their pregnancy, when the sexual organs, particularly boys, are developing. Decades later, they measured the quality of the sperm from these now grown-up subjects. It was found that women with the highest exposure to PFAS in the first trimester of their pregnancy gave birth to boys with the highest risk of abnormal sperm.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that estimates show that as many as 98% of people in the United States have PFAS in their blood. It’s also worth noting that PFAS are “forever chemicals,” meaning they are not eliminated from the body and accumulate over a lifetime. While the study noted the effects on a fetus, just as alarming is the fact that adults who are regularly exposed to PFAS have a higher risk of obesity, high cholesterol, and type two diabetes. In other words, this endocrine disruption makes it far more difficult to reset metabolically, even after bariatric surgery.

The Good News

While many of us have been exposed to PFAS, and there is nothing we can do to reverse that, we can also mitigate future exposure by making wise food choices. PFAS is most commonly found in the fast-food packaging of many major chains. Takeout packaging from fast-casual restaurants is often also implicated. If you follow the post-bariatric diet closely, you will likely avoid PFAS to a large degree. Of course, because of the difficulty in detecting all forms of these chemicals, we still may be exposed to places we don’t expect. However, buying and eating fresh foods from the fruit, vegetable, and fresh protein aisles and avoiding highly processed foods typically found in the center aisles of the grocery store gives us a strong barrier from these chemicals.

Will Avoiding PFAS Make a Difference in My Weight Loss?

There is not enough data for us to make a definitive decision on whether PFAS will cause significant metabolic concerns. We also genuinely don’t know what concentration of these chemicals causes this endocrine disruption. As post-bariatric patients, we must give ourselves the best opportunity to lose as much weight as possible and maintain that weight for the long term, both for our health and the enjoyment of our life. Avoiding these forever chemicals is vital for adults and children alike.

The Bottom Line

This study, and the admittedly alarming concept of forever chemicals, shows the need to re-double your effort to stay away from many of the worst health offenders around us. Not only are many of the fast foods that we have been accustomed to consuming not conducive to our metabolic health, but it turns out that the packaging can be problematic, too. Making smart food choices seems to have a more significant beneficial effect than we thought before.