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Pesticide May Be Responsible for Some Insulin Resistance

Type 2 diabetes, obesity, environmental factors on health

A study presented at The Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting reports that a fungicide used on farm crops outside of the United States may be responsible for some insulin resistance, giving credence to the hypothesis that some environmental factors might be contributors to the diabetes epidemic.

Within the last decade, research attention has increasingly focused on the link between environmental contaminants and the rising rate of both obesity and diabetes throughout many parts of the world. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health found that those who use pesticides long-term were at an increased risk for developing diabetes. Those with the highest exposure were at a 17% greater risk for the disease as compared to those in the lowest use category.

Dr. Robert Sargis MD PhD, an instructor in the endocrinology division at the University of Chicago, studied tolylfluanid, a fungicide, in mouse fat to examine the effects of the substance on insulin resistance at the cellular level. Body fat is known to store certain chemicals. When exposed to the chemical, the ability of insulin to trigger action inside the fat cell (adipocyte) was reduced – an early indication of diabetes.

In addition to diabetes, tolylfluanid may have implications in obesity. The chemical-exposed cells stored more fat in a similar action to a steroid called corticosterone – a mouse stress hormone similar to human cortisol. Cortisol, released by the adrenal gland is known to contribute to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet, tolylfluanid is produced by Bayer AG in Germany for use outside of the US. No production of products containing the chemical occurs within the country. However, some foods that are imported, such as apples, grapes, hops, and tomatoes, may contain some of the pesticide residue.

The EPA classifies tolylfluanid as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” as it has been known to induced thyroid tumors in both male and female rats. In addition to use as a fungicide on farm crops, the chemical is sometimes used in paint on ships to prevent organisms from sticking to the hulls.

“For the public, this raises the specter of environmental pollutants as potential contributors to the metabolic disease epidemic,” said Sargis, adding that, “hopefully, it will put further pressure on public policy makers to reassess the contribution of environmental pollution as a contributor to human disease in order to encourage the development of strategies for reversing those effects.”

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the University of Chicago Diabetes Research and Training Center funded this research.

Sources Include: The Endocrine Society, The Environmental Protection Agency