dust, fat, cells

Daily Wisdom: Beware of Dust

Even a small amount could contribute to the growth of fat cells.

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A new study in Environmental Science & Technology reports that typical house dust can trigger fat cells to develop and triglycerides to accumulate in mice. What’s more, this can happen due to dust in amounts as low as three micrograms. For comparison, the EPA estimates that children (who exhibit more hand-to-mouth behavior than adults) consume roughly 50 milligrams of dust every day.


“A wide variety of household products, like furniture, electronics, insulation, and flooring, can leach chemicals into the surrounding environment, and these chemicals often wind up in our household dust,” explains study co-author Christopher D. Kassotis, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar at Duke University. They’re called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, and the compounds interfere with our body's hormones when we inhale, ingest, or absorb them through the skin.

For the study, Kassotis’ team collected samples of indoor dust from 11 homes and found that seven of these triggered precursor fat to mature and accumulate triglycerides. Moreover, nine of the samples caused the precursor fat cells to multiply. “EDCs can directly bind to certain receptors inside cells and activate those pathways, spurring the development of fat cells,” Kassotis explains.


Until we have more studies on human cells, researchers can’t say definitively how much dust is dangerous, or how often you need to clean to stay safe. What you can do: Limit the EDCs you bring into your home. “Avoid using pesticides indoors, limit your use of plastics, cook with pans that are not nonstick (perfluorinated chemical coating)—all of these will help reduce the contribution of many of the chemicals we assessed into your home environment,” Kassotis says. Check out the Endocrine Society’s list of contaminants and try and keep dust levels as low as possible. Vacuum frequently and when you dust, do so with a damp cloth since dry dusting just moves the contaminants back into the air, he adds.