Type 2 Diabetes and Pesticides, What You Should Know
Development of type 2 diabetes may have a close relationship with the environment, and especially the presence of certain pesticides. According to a new study, some pesticides found in the soil, water, and air may have a role in the rise of type 2 diabetes and may be linked to weight as well.
Could pesticides be a cause of type 2 diabetes?
Use of pesticides in agriculture and landscaping is massive. Despite recent growing interest in organic farming, pesticides such as organochlorines and polychlorinated biphenyls continue to be applied to crops at excessively high levels.
However, health threats from pesticides do not always come from chemicals that are still being used. In fact, results of the new study from the University of Granada suggest the development of type 2 diabetes may be associated with pesticides that were banned (for the most part) decades ago in the United States.
The study involved examining fat (adipose) tissue and serum samples from 386 individuals who were undergoing non-cancer-related surgery. All the samples were evaluated for the presence of three organochlorine pesticides and three polycholorinated biphenyls, all of which are associated with an impact on estrogen.
The researchers found an association between concentrations of the pesticide DDE (p,p’-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Specifically, people who had higher concentrations of DDE were four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
The scientists also observed a significant relationship between DDE and body mass index, with the risk of diabetes increasing with DDE exposure in non-obese subjects but not obese individuals.
In addition, researchers saw an association between the pesticide beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and type 2 diabetes risk. Beta-hexachlorocyclohexane (B-HCH) is an organochloride and a byproduct of the insecticide lindane, which has not been used in the United States since 1985. Lindane is still used for medicinal purposes, however, as a secondary treatment for scabies.
DDE is a chemical compound formed from the breakdown of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), an organochlorine pesticide that was banned in the United States in 1972 (and later worldwide) but used extensively up to that point. Although DDT is no longer used (except in limited cases to fight malaria), both DDT and DDE linger in the environment and accumulate in fat tissue in the body, where it tends to stay for life, even though some DDE can be delivered via breast milk.
In fact, DDT has a half life (the amount of time it takes for the compound to break down to half its potency) of up to 30 years, which means DDT and DDE still have a lot of life left in them. B-HCH also can still be found in the soil and water, and it has been shown to cause nerve damage and oxidative stress.
One of the study’s researchers, Juan Pedro Arrebola, noted that even though experts are uncertain about how pesticides increase the risk of diabetes, some have suggested that the toxins “might cause an immunological response when they penetrate estrogen receptors in tissues associated with the metabolism of sugars.”
This study addressed pesticides that have been banned but still linger in the environment. Therefore, it can be difficult if not impossible to avoid at least some exposure to these toxins.
However, additional research may show other pesticides to have similar effects. After all, pesticides have already been associated or suggested to have a role in ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, and a variety of other diseases and conditions.
It is always a good idea to avoid exposure to toxins. However, this new study suggests one more good reason to be more conscious of pesticide use, the purity of your food and water and the air you breathe, and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Arrebola JP et al. Adipose tissue concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adults from Southern Spain. Environmental Research 2013 Feb. DOI:10.1016/j.envres.2012.12.00