One argument used by the low-carb community to defend the consumption of saturated fat, and the animal food that contains it, is that man used to eat a lot of saturated fat and it didn’t contribute to disease. But the saturated fat we eat today is not the fat of yesteryear. It’s laden with chemicals that didn’t exist in prehistoric times, as is our own fat.
Of course, all the food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe is contaminated with new synthetic chemicals. I pick on animal fat because diet is the primary source for these chemicals and they bioaccumulate in animal flesh. Also, many pollutants are hydrocarbons and so are more fat-soluble. People who eat a lot of meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy food have a higher body burden of industrial chemicals that people who eat mostly plants.
Tracy Woodruff, currently a professor at the University of California, editor of Environmental Health Perspectives, and formerly a scientist at the EPA, says if we don’t increase testing, data exchange, and regulation of these chemicals, we’re going to see more disease and premature death:
Making It Real—The Environmental Burden of Disease. What Does It Take to Make People Pay Attention to the Environment and Health?, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Tracey J. Woodruff, April 2015
Increasing rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including neurodevelopmental outcomes, obesity and diabetes, and certain cancers, make factoring the role of the environment into prevention efforts imperative.
The burden of industrial chemicals will continue to grow unless we change our path.
Data show irrefutably that everyone around the globe—from before birth until death—is exposed to industrial chemicals (6). But what we know is based only on what we can measure. Our ability to measure environmental chemicals in our products or in our bodies is surpassed by the rate at which industrial chemicals are produced. Current technological capacity to measure chemicals in people can evaluate less than 7% of the nearly 7500 high-use chemicals in the United States manufactured (including imported) in volumes of 25,000 pounds or more at a single site per year or the 4800 “high-production volume chemicals” globally (13, 20). We have reason to suspect that the chemicals that are not measured in humans may pose a risk to health because many of these chemicals are structurally similar to chemicals that have been shown to adversely affect health
Europe has been a leader in addressing industrial chemicals in the marketplace through the passage of Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). REACH flips the burden of proof so that the manufacturers of chemicals must provide data to keep their chemical on the market, an approach that has reverberated around the world in its common sense vision for how we address chemicals. The papers published in this issue of the JCEM are one more part of the evidentiary story that the approach of REACH to require data and safety to remain on the market is moving in the correct direction, and that countries should aspire to meet and exceed the bar that has been raised by the European Union, rather than devolve to the lower bar currently in place in the United States of waiting until we have evidence that harm has already happened (25). Only then can we achieve health for all in this generation and future generations.
Many of the actions we take on an individual level become a futile game of whack-a-mole, e.g. as we reject BPA-lined cans, manufacturers substitute other chemicals that turn out to be just as harmful. Eggs from free-range hens may have more environmental pollutants than eggs from factory-farmed hens. Manufacturers respond to demand at the retail level by developing alternative products that they can sell at a premium but that likely contain just another set of harmful chemicals. We need to, as Woodruff says, flip the burden of proof to manufacturers, have them provide data and safety testing before a product lands in the hands of a consumer.