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House dust could be causing us to pile on the pounds © Getty Images

House dust could be causing us to pile on the pounds

Published: 30th March, 2019 at 08:00
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Household dust could contain up 70 chemicals that encourage the growth of human fat cells.

If you’re looking to lose a little weight this year it looks like it could be time for a spring clean. Researchers at Duke University have found that house dust contains chemicals that could be causing us to pile on the pounds.


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, compounds that replicate hormones naturally found in the body, found in household dust may trigger the development of fat cells in the human body, they say. The effect could be triggering increased fat growth in children relative to that ordinarily expected for their age.

The chemicals are originally found in common household products such as laundry detergents, household cleaners, paints and cosmetics, and attach themselves onto dust particles through daily or weekly use.

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Previous research on fat cells isolated in the lab has shown that exposure to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in household dust can cause them to accumulate triglycerides - a type of fat found in the blood. When we eat, our bodies converts any calories we don’t immediately need to use into triglycerides. The triglycerides are then stored in fat cells until hormones trigger their release for use as an energy source.

Similarly, studies in animals have also shown that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can lead to increased rates of obesity.

For this latest study, the team collect nearly 200 house dust samples from homes in North Carolina. They then extracted more than 100 different chemicals from the dust in the lab and tested each of them for their ability to promote fat cell development in petri dish model.

They found that around 70 of the chemicals had a marked effect on the development of dust-induced. What’s more, they discovered that several of the chemicals were present in large quantities in the dust found in the homes of children who were significantly overweight or obese.

“This is some of the first research investigating links between exposure to chemical mixtures present in the indoor environment and metabolic health of children living in those homes,” said lead researcher Dr Christopher Kassotis of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. “We found that two-thirds of dust extracts were able to promote fat cell development and half promote precursor fat cell proliferation at 100 micrograms, or approximately 1,000 times lower levels than what children consume on a daily basis.”

The team now plan to further study these chemicals to establish exactly which of them are a contributing factor to obesity in children.


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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.


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