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Environmental Toxins and Weight Gain: The Link. An Interview with Paula Baillie-Hamilton MB, BS, Dphil

by Russ Mason(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 120 - February 2006

Paula F Baillie-Hamilton MB BS DPhil (Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, Stirling, Scotland), an expert on metabolism and the impact of toxins upon the human system, has proposed that toxins in our environment may lie at the cause of weight gain.

Dr Baillie-Hamilton has, through years of research, identified certain toxic chemicals, which can cause a person to gain weight. She calls these substances 'Chemical Calories' because they act within our bodies as hormones, and have a damaging effect on the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the hormonal regulatory system for weight control. Dr Baillie-Hamilton defines a 'Chemical Calorie' as an estimated value of the degree of damage caused by a chemical to our natural weight loss systems.

Her thesis is clear: by detoxification, through the use of certain dietary supplements and eating organic food, as well as other health-promoting activities, the individual will not only rid the body of dangerous toxins, but will also experience a loss of weight. Therefore, until an individual greatly reduces his or her toxic load, no diet will ever work.

toxins chart

The relationship of toxins to chronic disease, especially cancer, has been well documented. Over the past 100 years-when synthetic chemicals first appeared, toxins have so permeated every aspect of our lives and environment that chemicals have fundamentally altered the ways our bodies work (See Fig 1). Additionally, synthetic chemicals have long possessed the potential to damage many of the body¡¦s natural weight control mechanisms, resulting in a condition of obesity. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS), in conjunction with the monoamine hormones it produces (norepinepherine, dopamine and epinepherine), plays a key role in controlling weight, body-fat levels, and nutrition partitioning. Therefore, it is not surprising that abnormalities in the SNS are linked to most forms of obesity. Dr Baillie-Hamilton states that even the most common synthetic chemicals in the environment negatively impact the sympathetic nervous system.

Particularly nasty are those chemicals that are used to fatten livestock; and there is a wide spectrum of them. Many of these products are, or were, used as growth promoters in the animal industry, allowing higher profits through decreased feed costs. When we eat commercially-produced meat that has been treated with chemicals, any remaining chemical additives left in the animal products will then enter our systems and, in addition to other damage they may cause, could also affect our weight. Depending on the specific toxin, the effects could also lead to chronic disease, nerve damage, muscle damage, hormonal imbalances, or a variety of other conditions.

Fish and seafood tend to have high levels of contaminants, particularly fatty fish, such as salmon and trout. Hence, Dr Baillie-Hamilton cautions against eating them, as well as the taking of non-purified fish oil supplements, which are likely to be contaminated. However, fish with white flesh, such as cod, tend to have substantially lower toxic residues, and are generally considered safer.

A vegetarian diet does not automatically guarantee safety from toxins. Many chemicals with suspected fattening properties enter our bodies as pesticides on fruits, vegetables, personal care products, air fresheners, carpeting, aerosol sprays and other contaminants. All of these may potentially add the pounds while creating illness in the process. And yet, our bodies, Dr Baillie-Hamilton explains, have highly effective natural 'Slimming Systems'. When functioning optimally, these systems are able to process food while facilitating the elimination of toxins.

Russ Mason: How did you first connect environmental toxins to weight gain?
Paula Baillie-Hamilton: After the birth of my second son, I gained a significant amount of weight. I happened to read an article in a national newspaper on how chemical toxins at current levels of environmental exposure are currently damaging animal health by meddling with their hormones. My academic background and previous experience as a doctor had given me the ability to see the connection between these toxins and that perhaps there was a connection to our growing weight problem. That was nearly eight years ago.

RM: Which are the principal toxins we need to be mindful of?
PB-H: Organophosphates are right at the top. In addition to being highly toxic to insects, these chemicals are also highly toxic to humans.

RM: Organophosphates are found primarily in pesticides?
PB-H: Yes, not just for gardens and farms, and household uses, but also things like flea collars. They are very dangerous. In fact, organophosphates are derivatives of the chemicals used at Auschwitz as nerve gas. They also have the ability, in low doses, to fatten livestock by reducing their ability to use up existing fat stores and have been marketed for this purpose. Although the use of organophosphates has been banned as a growth-promoting substance, they can still be found in pesticides. Organophosphates have been shown to disrupt the major weight controlling hormones, such as catecholamines, thyroid hormones, estrogens, testosterone, corticosteroids, insulin, growth hormone, and leptin. They appear to alter levels of – and sensitivity to – neurotransmitters; they interfere with many metabolic processes; and they cause widespread damage to body tissues, particularly nerve and muscle tissues. So bear that in mind the next time you reach for the can of bug spray!

RM: What other chemicals do we need to be mindful of?
PB-H: Carbamates. They are used both as pesticide and as fungicide on many food crops. What is important to know about fungicides is that they are sprayed on the food around the time the food is being harvested, so there is little or no opportunity for the rain to wash it away. Also, certain types of carbamates have been shown to lower metabolic rates, which means livestock would need to eat less food to get fat. Carbamates in the human system have a similar impact. And, like organophosphates, carbamates have the ability to lower the level of physical activity, through hormone impairment.

Steroids also pose a risk, and are well-known for their ability to cause weight gain. If they are given to pregnant animals the offspring not only weigh more, but also have higher weight gains all through their lives. This suggests that our children are potentially at risk of obesity in later life if their mothers during pregnancy are exposed to steroids, or chemicals which mimic their effects.

And, finally, antibiotics can also negatively impact on the human system, even though they tend to have a positive image. Many of these chemicals attack the weight-control mechanism and, as a result, cause weight gain. What is significant is that the vast majority of all forms of livestock will be exposed to anti-bacterial agents at some stage in their lives. Residues of antibiotics are found in meat from treated animals, which means that you¡¦re probably taking them also.

RM: Please explain a little more about how toxins can affect our desires – that is, the kind of food we eat, how much, and so on. Presumably, our bodies are getting the wrong kinds of signals because of the impact of toxic chemicals?
PB-H: Yes, that's right. Hormones determine whatever kind of food you eat, and when you eat throughout the day. Different hormones stimulate an appetite for different foods. And, as the levels change, they will drive you to seek out whatever your body needs at a particular time. One group of hormones, catecholamines, tend to be greatly diminished in obese people – hence the craving for fatty foods as catecholamines tend to suppress the appetite for fats. In addition these hormones tend to be those targeted by toxic chemicals.

RM: What advice would you give to those who would like to detoxify as well as slim down?
PB-H: I believe now that everyone needs to take supplements, because the world has changed. Food has become more processed, which usually results in a diminished nutritional benefit. And because of the way crops are being grown, we are getting fewer and fewer nutrients from our food. So while the intake of nutrients for the average individual has never been lower, the need for good nutrition has never been higher. As a result, people are suffering because of this mismatch.

In the last 100 or so years, since toxic chemicals have been around, our need for certain vitamins and minerals has increased; and this is because the chemicals to which we are exposed sometimes use up our stores of vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients, as well as increase the rate at which we lose them. It is also important to identify which nutrients are used up at a faster rate, and therefore which nutrients need to be replenished.

I have listed what I consider to be the minimum for daily supplementation (see box). If an individual is able to take these supplements, they would be able to detoxify from the different chemicals at a much faster rate. As well, they would also provide their bodies with what they need to heal themselves, and to promote good health. And, in addition to eating less contaminated and processed food, and also peeling all fruits and vegetables, there can be a huge improvement in someone¡¦s overall health.

Essential Supplements – Total Daily Amount

Vitamin A (Retinol* or
Beta Carotene)    5,000 – 10,000 IUS
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)    10 – 50 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)    10 – 50 mg
Vitamin B3 (niacin)        10 – 50 mg
Vitamin B5        10 – 50 mg
Vitamin B6        10 – 100 mg
Vitamin B12        10 – 50 mcg
Vitamin C        500 – 3000 mg
Vitamin E        200 – 400 ius
Folic Acid        200 – 400 mcg
Choline        25 – 100 mg
Zinc        15 – 100 mg
Magnesium        200 – 400 mg
Iron        15 – 20 mg
Co-enzyme Q-10        10 – 50 mg

*If pregnant or trying to conceive, do not exceed 10,000 IUS of retinol per day.

Essential Fats – Total Daily Amount
Omega-3 essential fats
Linseed (flax) oil    5 – 15 g (1 – 3 tsp)
Clean’ fish oil
(which has been
molecularly distilled)    500-1000 mg

Omega-6 Essential Fats
Evening primrose oil    500 – 1000 mg

Amino Acids (Protein) – Total Daily Amount (Optional)
Tyrosine        200 – 500 mg
L-5 hydroxtryptophan
(5 HTP)        25 – 50 mg
Methionine        200 – 500 mg
Glutathione        200 – 500 mg
MSM-sulphur        500 mg-3000 mg
(if you cannot get the above amino acids)

Detoxers – Total Daily Amount
(Taken separately from the other nutrient supplements)
Soluble fibre***
Grapefruit pectin up to 3g before meals (3 x a day)
Apple pectin
Psyllium seed husks
*** All soluble fiber supplements must be taken with water as instructed.


































RM: What are some other guidelines to assist a detoxification programme?
PB-H: The benefits of exercise are well-known. As one detoxifies, the desire to exercise tends to come back. Obese people who lead sedentary lives will see this all change as they begin to remove the long-accumulated toxins from their bodies.

RM: Please explain how exercise can assist the detoxification process.
PB-H: As most doctors know, exercise helps burn up the stores of fat. Even mild exercise will increase the oxygen supply; this will help the detoxification process. Regarding exercise, there are two general guidelines: don't overdo it especially in the first few weeks; and whatever the form of exercise is, to do it steadily. It's important to keep the nutrient, especially the anti-oxidant, level high also since exercise produces free radicals, which can be damaging.

RM: What else do you recommend?
PB-H: Plenty of soluble fibers in the diet, such as fresh fruit, vegetables and things like grapefruit or apple pectin. This will help bind toxins in the gut and be removed from the body.

It is also a good idea to keep the home well ventilated. Remember that the air indoors circulates less and tends to be far more polluted than it is outdoors, even in cities. If one lives in a heavily polluted area, then getting an air filter is a good idea.

Along with that, having plants in the home is a very good idea because they soak up airborne chemical calories while they exhale oxygen, containing clean air. Spider plants are particularly efficient at absorbing toxins. Also, keep the bedroom window slightly open at night, and keep all fragrances and deodorants in the bathroom, instead of the bedroom, so one is breathing in toxins from these products.

RM: What about the use of plastic wraps for food?
PBH: Using plastic wrap is generally OK with things such as fresh fruit and vegetables, but it is not a good idea with fatty produce, as the chemicals which tend to leach from plastics are highly fat soluble. In addition, it is best not to heat food in a microwave if it is in a plastic container.

RM: Despite the toxic risks, plastics seem to be everywhere, including bottled milk, juice and water. Do these containers pose a danger?
PB-H: Absolutely. Plastic is a big toxic culprit as it contains toxins that can leach out into bottled beverages. It would be better to keep all beverages in glass bottles. And one ought not store food, particularly fatty foods, in plastic containers. Fats act as a magnet for chemical calories because of the high fat solubility of plastics and their additives. If people do buy fatty foods (such as milk or cheese) in plastic packaging, they should either decant them into a glass or ceramic container, or make sure they are kept at a low temperature in the fridge or freezer. The higher the temperature, the greater the contamination will be from the plastic container into your food.

RM: Many people use plastic dishes in microwave ovens. Is this also unsafe?
PB-H: It is not recommended to cook food in plastic containers in a microwave. High temperatures can enhance the amount of chemicals leaching out from plastics. Try to use ceramic crockery instead. Frankly, I would not recommend using a microwave oven at all.

RM: We have talked about toxins from foods, and from other environmental sources. What about water?
PB-H: Having access to clean water is essential because the vast array of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, can pose a real threat to the individual. And yet, most of the toxins, which we get from water, do not come from drinking it. Hot water, especially in a steamy shower, poses another greater risk because the chemicals can enter through our skin and lungs, and we can re-contaminate each time we take a bath or shower. Therefore, a good filter on all household water is highly recommended.

RM: Does chlorine in tap water pose a danger?
PB-H: It is a fairly efficient disinfectant with a disgusting taste. But the danger with chlorine is that it can bind to other chemicals in the water forming trihalomethanes, which are thought to be cancer-causing substances. However, the real toxins in water are any of the 350 identified pollutants which have been detected in water. Agricultural chemicals, particularly pesticides, are known to seep into local water supplies, and pose a considerable risk. In addition, lakes and rivers are polluted with industrial waste which also finds its way into local water supplies. There is also MTBE (Methyl, Tertiary-Butyl Ether). Seepage from petroleum storage tanks has gotten into the water supply in some American communities and, as a result, many people are drinking this chemical. Another particularly toxic chemical is trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent that is also used in dry cleaning.

RM: Are there other, perhaps less well-known, sources of toxins that we need to be mindful of?
PB-H: Well, toxins are so widespread – they are everywhere. If you've ever walked into a toy store, the first thing you notice is the smell of plastics!

RM: Do plastic toys really pose a danger to children?
PB-H: The vast majority of new toys are made of PVC, a highly toxic form of plastic; and they have replaced more traditional materials, such as wood and metal. But I am not suggesting you throw out all the plastic toys – can you imagine the howls? – but what you can do is to make sure they are properly stored and used in a well-ventilated area.

However, one must also be mindful of other toxic sources, which could pose a risk to children. Glues that are used in model-making are dangerous, some of the fumes from felt-tipped pens and markers, even some soft toys, have chemicals in the dyes and fillings.

RM: So these substances not only pose a health risk, they may contribute to weight gain.
PB-H: Yes, it seems likely that they do. As we have said, these toxins can impact significantly on the various hormonal systems and the SNS. So, by taking reasonable precautions, eliminating toxic chemical exposure as much as possible, getting a good supply of nutrients each day, one can rid the body of these chemicals. But one has to bear in mind toxins are absolutely everywhere. If you go for a walk in a public park you are likely to be inhaling pesticides of some sort, and the air of the countryside is likely to have agricultural chemicals in the wind also.

RM: The programme you suggest for detoxifying and restoring health requires a great deal of personal change.
PB-H: In order to achieve anything worthwhile, a concerted effort is necessary. The same is true here. There must be changes in how one shops for food, how one eats, and other changes in lifestyle. But you don't have to do every thing at once. By taking the right supplements you could make a significant difference. And with respect to reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals, just by reducing your exposure to the most contaminated sources, such as household and garden pesticides, would be a major step forwards. In general the more ways you can lower your exposure to toxins, the more benefits you will see. However, because I am recommending a lifestyle change, this programme cannot be done overnight. It is not a quick fix. It is a programme for sustained, overall health.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Ashby J, Tinwell H and Haseman J. Lack of effects for low dose levels of bisphenol A and diethylstilbestrol on the prostate gland of CFI mice exposed in utero. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 30(2[pt1]): 156-166. 1999.
Baptista T. Body weight gain induced by antipsychotic drugs: Mechanisms and management. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 100: 3-16. 1999.
B-H P Dr. Chemical Toxins: A Hypothesis to Explain the Global Obesity Epidemic. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 8. Number 2. pp.185-192. 2002. (This is the paper I wrote which explains the role chemicals appear to be playing in triggering the global obesity epidemic.)
Bray GA. Food intake, sympathetic activity and adrenal steroids. Brain Res Bull. 32(5): 537-541. 1993.
Breslin WJ, Liberacki AB, Dittenber DA and Quast JF. Evaluation of the developmental and reproductive toxicity of chlorpyrifos in the rat. Fundam Appl Toxicol. 29(1): 119-130. 1996.
Chadwick RW, Cooper RL, Chang J, Rehnberg GL and McElroy WK. Possible anti-estrogenic activity of lindane in female rats. J Biochem Toxicol. 3: 147-158. 1998. (This study shows a powerful weight gain effect from lindane, a persistent organochlorine chemical.)
Chu I, Villeneuve DC, Secours VE, Valli VE, Leeson S and Shen SY. Long-term toxicity of octachlorostyrene in the rat. Fundam Appl Toxicol. 6(1): 69-77. 1986. (A study showing the direct and positive relationship between exposure to plastics known as styrenes and weight gain.)
Dar E, Kanarek MS, Anderson HA and Sonzogni WC. Fish consumption and reproductive outcomes in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Environ Res. 59(1): 189-201. 1992. (A study showing the greater the level of certain persistent chemicals acquired from eating contaminated fish, the greater the level of body weight of pregnant mothers and their subsequent babies.)
Deichmann WB, MacDonald WE and Cubit DA. Dieldrin and DDT in the tissues of mice fed aldrin and DDT for seven generations. Arch Toxicol. 34(3): 173-182. 1975. (The higher the exposure to the persistent chemical known as DDT the greater the body weight.)
Dorgan JF, Brock JW, Rothman N, Needham LL, Miller R, Stephenson HE, Schussler N and Taylor PR. Serum organochlorine pesticides and PCBs and breast cancer risk: Results from a prospective analysis (USA). Cancer Causes Control. 10: 1-11. 1999. (The greater the level of persistent chemicals in human bodies the greater the overall body weight.)
Ema M, Murai T, Itami T and Kawasaki H. Evaluation of the teratogenic potential of the plasticizer butyl benzyl phthalate in rats. J Appl Toxicol. 10(5): 339-343. 1990. (Rats exposed to chemicals used in plastics gain excessive levels of weight.)
Embry TL, Morgan DP and Roan CC. Search for abnormalities of heme synthesis and sympathoadrenal activity in workers regularly exposed to pesticides. J Occup Med. 14(12): 918-921. 1972. (People working with commonly used pesticides have a severely damaged and under-active sympathetic nervous system.)
Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kuczmarski RJ and Johnson
CL. Overweight and obesity in the United States: Prevalence and trends. 1960-1994. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 22(1): 39-47. 1998. (Data for the graph.)
Goldman JM, Parrish MB, Cooper RL and McElroy WK. Blockade of ovulation in the rat by systemic and ovarian intrabursal administration of the fungicide sodium dimethyldithiocarbamate. Reprod Toxicol. 11(2-3): 185-190. 1997. (A common fungicide causes weight gain in rats.)
Hovinga ME, Sowers M, Humphrey HEB. Environmental exposure and lifestyle predictors of lead, cadmium, PCB, and DDT levels in great lakes fish eaters. Arch Environ Health. 48: 98-104. 1993. (The higher the level of toxic chemicals in humans the higher the body mass index.)
Knoth-Anderson J and Abou-Donia MB. Differential effects of triphenylphosphite and di-isopropyl phosphofluoridate on catecholamine secretion from bovine adrenomedullary chromaffin cells. J Toxicol Environ Health. 38(2): 103-114.
1993. (Pesticides known as organophosphates lower level of catecholamines a hormone responsible for weight loss.)
Nicolau GY. Circadian rhythms of RNA, DNA and protein in the rat thyroid, adrenal and testes in chronic pesticide exposure: III. Effects of the insecticides (dichlorvos and trichlorphon.) Physiologie. 20(2): 93-101. 1983. (Pesticides known as organophosphates cause excessive weight gain in animals.)
Pearson AM, Dutson TR, eds. Growth Regulation in Farm Animals: Series. Advances in Meat Research. Vol 7. London. Elsevier Applied Science. (A book which explains exactly how chemicals, such as organophosphates [pesticides], carbamates [fungicides/pesticides], steroids and antibiotics are used commercially to promote weight gain in animals.) 1991.
Rasvussin E. Obesity in Britain: Rising trend may be due to Pathoenvironment [letter]. BMJ. 311:
1569 . 1995. (Explains how environmental factors are at the heart of the recent obesity epidemic.)
Richardson JA, Keil JE and Sandifer SH. Catecholamine metabolism in humans exposed to pesticides. Environ Res. 9(3): 290-294. 1975. (A paper explaining how the levels of natural slimming hormones are lowered by exposure to pesticides.)
Schildkraut JM, Demark-Wahnefried W, DeVoto E, Hughes C, Laseter JL and Newman B. Environmental contaminants and body fat distribution. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 8: 179-183. 1999. (The higher the level of persistent organochlorines in humans the higher the body mass index.)
Stellman SD, Djordjevic M, Muscat J, Citron M, White A, Kemeny M and Busch E. Adipose and serum levels of organochlorinated pesticides and PCB residues in Long Island women: Association with age and body mass [SER abstr]. Am J Epidemiol. S21: 81. 1997. (The higher the level of organochlorines [common environmental contaminants] in women the greater the body mass index.)
Trankina ML, Beitz DC and Trenkle AH. Effects of in-vitro Ronnel on metabolic activity in subcutaneous adipose tissue and skeletal muscle from steers. J Anim Sci. 60(3): 652-658. 1985. (How an organophosphate known as Ronnel (which was sold both as a pesticide and as an animal growth promoter) caused weight gain in animals by slowing down their metabolism.
Villeneuve DC, van Logten MJ, Den Tonkelaar EM, Greve PA, Vos JG, Speijers GJA and van Esch GJ. Effect of food deprivation on low level hexachlorobenzene exposure in rats. Sci Total Environ. 8(2): 179-186. 1997. (Rats eating 50% less foods but given the fungicide and common environmental pollutant hexachlorobenzene, gained more weight than rats given double the food but no fungicide.)
Yen JT, Nienaber JA, Pond WG and Varel VH. Effect of carbadox on growth, fasting metabolism, thyroid function and gastrointestinal tract in young pigs. J Nutr. 970-979. 1984. (How a type of carbamate [a commonly used pesticide] works as growth promoters in damaging normal metabolism to promote weight gain in animals.)

About the Interviewee

Dr Paula Baillie-Hamilton MD PhD is a specialist in occupational and environmental health at Stirling University. She has written two books on how chemicals make you sick and gain weight, and how to protect your body against their toxic effects ¡V The Detox Diet/The Body Restoration Plan (Penguin 2002) and Stop the 21st Century Killing You (Random House 2005) These can be ordered from; Dr Bailli-Hamilton can be contacted on;


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About Russ Mason

Russ Mason MS has interviewed many of the world's foremost physicians and health care practitioners. Published interviews include: Daniel J Benor MD, Tieraona Low Dog MD, Ralph W Moss PhD, Jhampa Kalsang, Judith Orloff MD and Roger Jahnke OMD. He may be contacted via russmason@ This is an edited version of an interview previously published: Russ Mason MS. Chemical Toxins and Obesity: Paula F Baillie-Hamilton MB BS DPhil Explains the Link. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. 8(4): 218-223. 2002.

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