Ever wonder how your breakfast cereal stays fresh weeks after you open it? That’s thanks in part to a preservative called butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, which protects the nutrients and keeps fats from spoiling.
But that chemical—and others in your food or cookware— might also be making you fat, as research published in Nature Communications suggests.
In the study, the researchers tested how three common chemicals found in food or food-related products can interfere with satiety signals from your brain (i.e., the signals that tell you that you’re no longer hungry). Using stem cells from human volunteers, the researchers grew tissue that lines the gut, and neuron tissue that makes up your brain’s hypothalamus region, which regulates your appetite and metabolism.
Then they exposed the tissues to BHT, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical found in some cookware, and tributyltin (TBT), a compound found in paint that could make its way into water and build up in seafood.
The researchers discovered that exposure to the chemicals damaged the hormones that communicate between the gut tissue and the brain tissues. That messes with the satiety signals your gut sends to your brain when you’re full—which, when working properly, would stop you from overeating.
The effects were strongest with BHT, but the combination of all three chemicals was even more robust, the scientists said in a statement. In fact, the findings may provide a critical understanding of a possible factor contributing to the current obesity epidemic.
This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about these so-called endocrine disrupters. In fact, there are ongoing efforts in place to remove BHT from breakfast cereals, the authors write. Back in 2015, General Mills stated it was removing the chemical from its cereal products.
Still, more research needs to be done to determine just how much these chemicals may be fueling our growing problem with obesity. In the meantime, if you want to drop some pounds, try these 10 ways to lose weight without even trying.