Dioxins in Food and Water Could Cause Diabetes

by Paul Rogers on November 25, 2008

Agent Orange - from imjoshdotcom

Agent Orange - from imjoshdotcom

I’ve been aware of an increasing number of recent studies that seem to show that the chemical pollutants called POPs — dioxins and similar compounds — could be at least partly responsible for the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Now it’s not conclusive, but some aspects of these investigations are certainly interesting. Like the fact that when controlled for dioxin content of tissue, even obese people were at no higher risk of type 2 diabetes if their dioxin levels were low. This could be a chance occurrence, or other factors could cause this to occur, but overall there are some compelling aspects to this research.

Here is what one author had to say:

“The strong associations seen in quite different studies suggest the possibility that exposure to POPs could cause diabetes. One striking observation is that obese persons that do not have elevated POPs are not at elevated risk of diabetes, suggesting that the POPs rather than the obesity per se is responsible for the association. ” [Rev Environ Health. 2008 Jan-Mar;23(1):59-74. Review.]

POPs are “persistent organic pollutants.” This class of pollutants includes dioxins, PCBs, DDT, DDE and many chlorinated organic pesticides. They accumulate in your body and in the fat of the animals we eat.

History of Dioxins and Diabetes

Some years ago I worked in occupational and environmental health and safety, advising on toxic chemicals and health. As well as working to establish the first chemical list for Australia’s National Pollutant Inventory, I also helped out the local Vietnam vets with their Agent Orange herbicide case. Much of the finer detail of the toxic risk assessments involved dioxins — exotic chemical contaminants that result from chemical manufacture and combustion. Levels of dioxin were very high in Agent Orange. There are over 200 varieties of dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — chemicals with somewhat similar structure and varying toxicities to humans. Sometimes the toxicity of these dioxin-like chemicals are referred to collectively with ‘toxic equivalents’ or TEQ.

Studies of manufacturing workers exposed to dioxins and similar compounds had already revealed a higher incidence of diabetes, and animal tests had confirmed this possibility to some degree.

The early emphasis of dioxin toxicity research was on birth defects and cancer. However, it took some time for the US Veterans Affairs Department to acknowledge limited evidence in support of a connection of Agent Orange exposure with type 2 diabetes, to the extent that disability pensions are now paid on this basis.

Other pieces of research seem to fit the puzzle. It seems that endocrine disrupting chemicals in general, especially ones that persist in the environment, are associated with diabetes. And a most recent research study suggests that the much-publicized plastics residue bisphenol-A is also possibly involved.

POPs and Diabetes: What You Can Do

While these contaminants are everywhere — from the Antarctic to the purest looking lake water — they also contaminate food by accumulating in animal fats — and which we consume in meat, chicken, dairy and fish products and fats.

If you want to reduce  your intake, you really need to either find wild or organic and lean products from pristine places, or reduce your intake of animal foods, especially fat, or perhaps do a combination of both. This issue is also another reason why high-meat and fat diets like Atkins low-carb can be a recipe for disaster. And as for those so-called diet gurus who say we should eat more saturated fat . . . here’s a very good reason not to.

- Rignell-Hydbom A, Rylander L, Hagmar L. Exposure to persistent organochlorine pollutants and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2007 May;26(5):447-52.
– Rylander L, Rignell-Hydbom A, Hagmar L. A cross-sectional study of the association between persistent organochlorine pollutants and diabetes. Environ Health. 2005 Nov 29;4:28.
– Ropero AB, Alonso-Magdalena P, García-García E, Ripoll C, Fuentes E, Nadal A. Bisphenol-A disruption of the endocrine pancreas and blood glucose homeostasis. Int J Androl. 2008 Apr;31(2):194-200. Epub 2007 Oct 31. Review.
– Wang SL, Tsai PC, Yang CY, Leon Guo Y. Increased risk of diabetes and polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins: a 24-year follow-up study of the Yucheng cohort. Diabetes Care. 2008 Aug;31(8):1574-9. 2008 May 16.
– Michalek JE, Pavuk M.  Diabetes and cancer in veterans of Operation Ranch Hand after adjustment for calendar period, days of spraying, and time spent in Southeast Asia. J Occup Environ Med. 2008 Mar;50(3):330-40.

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