Possible links to the development of obesity

Diethylstilboestrol—A long-term legacy, School of Biosciences, 2012


Obesity and type 2 diabetes levels have risen over the past century, the incidence being more marked in recent years. Both these conditions have adverse consequences and are significant public health issues. Even pets, laboratory animals and urban rats have increased in average body weight over the past decades. These trends in both humans and animals are not necessarily explicable by diet and exercise; prenatal exposure to environmental triggers (‘obesogens’), has been suggested as a possible factor, particularly to oestrogenic compounds such as DES, bisphenol A and phthalates.

Adipose tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing
hormones controlling appetite and energy metabolism and is a site for oestrogen synthesis. This mechanism, found in both animals and human beings, ensures a link between the food supply and the capacity to reproduce, since starvation and pregnancy are not a good combination. When low doses of DES were administered to mice pre- or neo-natally, the adult animals gained weight with altered expression of obesity-related genes and altered hormone levels. There was no difference in the number of fat cells but the cells already present increased in size.

Although it is not known at present whether DES acts as an obesogen in man, raised urinary concentrations of other environmental chemicals, such as phthalates, have been linked with the increased body weight and insulin resistance which lead to ‘metabolic syndrome’.



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