Diabetes Specialist San Bernardino –
Cora Lanyon

Most of us are aware of the lifestyle triggers for diabetes— poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity– but few are aware of the environmental insults that may play a cumulative role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Termed diabetogenic, these 6 environmental toxins can act as endocrine disruptors or glycemic pathways to alter glucose metabolism and trigger a diabetes response.

Let’s take a look at these 6 environmental triggers to see what we need to look out for in our environment as well as how to reduce our exposure and risk

Diabetes Specialist San Bernardino - 6 Environmental Triggers for Diabetes

1. Arsenic

Arsenic can be found in our water, oil, air, and food and is considered a natural contaminant in our environment, making it difficult to eradicate.

It is in our rice, seafood, and drinking water. In older days, ladies used to drink arsenic-laced water to give their skin a translucent “glow.”

Research has shown that arsenic exposure induces alterations in food intake patterns and energy metabolism. Exposure impairs glucose tolerance by altering insulin secretion from beta cells in the pancreas and disrupting their function. The mechanism may also include autophagy upregulation.

A 2018 study done on 1,451 adults showed a relationship between increased arsenic excretion in urine and diabetes. A genetic tendency towards diabetes interrelated with the arsenic exposure was also noted.

Occupational exposure to arsenic occurs mainly among workers involved in the processing of copper, gold, and lead ores; the manufacturing of glass and various pharmaceutical substances; the use of arsenic pigments and dyes; and the production and use of agricultural products.

Resveratrol has been shown in cell cultures to protect against arsenic-induced oxidative damage. Vitamin B complex has been shown to increase the urinary excretion of arsenic in humans. In a rat model, curcumin protects against multiple mechanisms of arsenic damage.

2. Bisphenol-A (BPA)

BPA is a synthetic chemical found in canned foods and drinks, kegs, some #7 plastics, polycarbonate water bottles, and cash register receipts. It is known to promote abnormal pancreatic cell function and impairs insulin and glucagon secretion, two hormones essential to glucose homeostasis.

While studies are controversial, with a recent 2018 study showing no relationship between BPA and a 5-year development of diabetes, a more recent epidemiological study did show a relationship between the endocrine disruptor effects of chemicals such as BPA and diabetes, noting, however, that cause and effect relationship studies on both animals and humans are still scarce.

BPAs can be avoided by opting for fresh or frozen foods, saying no to cash register receipts, and using glass or food-grade stainless steel water bottles.

In an interesting rat study, probiotics Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei were shown to bind to BPA in the gut and increase excretion in the stools. Both α-tocopherol and α-lipoic acid have been shown in a rat model to decrease BPA toxicity as has N-acetylcysteine (NAC).

3. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS)

These chemicals were banned in the 1970s but persist in the environment in old paint and plastics, old floor finish and caulking, pre-1979 electrical devices, and in the food we eat. While again, studies are contradictory, animal studies show a relationship between PCBs and inflammation of the pancreas.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and quercetin have been shown in human cell lines to protect against DNA damage from PCBs. PCB-induced oxidative stress and cytotoxicity in cell lines can be mitigated by NAC. In cell cultures, quercetin blocks inflammation induced by PCBs.

The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of positive steps to take to rid yourself of PCB contamination in your environment and can be viewed here.

4. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS)

These compounds contribute to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Commonly found in:

  • Burnt meat
  • Gasoline
  • Crude oil
  • Coal
  • Incinerated garbage

Clear evidence of a relationship between PAHS and diabetes in humans exists in 2018 studies. One such study of cross-sectional data from 8664 participants was analyzed from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2014. High levels of exposure to PAHs are positively associated with diabetes in the U.S. general population, and these effects were modified by BMI. Positive associations were also seen among normal weight and obese individuals.

In human epithelial cells, curcumin can protect against damages done by PAHs, and quercetin has been found to interact synergistically with beta-carotene in protecting DNA from damage. A similar effect was seen for epicatechins such as ECGC found in green tea.

5. Phthalates

These diabetogens are found in vinyl or FRAGRANCED:

  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Laundry products
  • Candles
  • Air fresheners
  • Wax melts
  • Personal care products

A total of 1,016 subjects, aged 70 years, were investigated in the Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors Study. A total of 114 subjects were shown to have diabetes. The findings in this cross-sectional study showed that several phthalate metabolites are related to diabetes prevalence, as well as to markers of insulin secretion and resistance. These findings support the view that these commonly used chemicals might influence major factors that are regulating glucose metabolism in humans at the level of exposure of phthalate metabolites seen in the general elderly population.

Epidemiological studies, in general, support the fact that phthalates induce a sharp decrease in insulin secretion, aggravate glucose tolerance and sensitivity, and increase insulin resistance.

In rats, α-lipoic acid, resveratrol, and curcumin protect against the testicular toxicity induced by phthalates.

6. Mercury

Mercury levels are high in:

  • Amalgam fillings
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Some fish secondary to coal burning pollution

Mercury has been associated with altered function of beta cells. A prospective cohort of almost 4,000 adults was evaluated and followed for 8 years. Data are consistent with findings from laboratory studies and provide longitudinal human data suggesting that people with high mercury exposure in young adulthood may have elevated risk of diabetes later in life.

Take-home message:

Diabetes Specialist San Bernardino - 6 Environmental Triggers for Diabetes

Look beyond the obvious risk areas to your health to include your environment and what you can do to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. Simple things such as avoiding plastics, washing fruits/veggies well, avoiding fumes, buying organic foods, and drinking clean water are all very reasonable things to include in our daily routines for a healthier life for ourselves and our children.

Looking for a Diabetes Specialist San Bernardino located? Come to Integrated Health Center of Inland Empire.

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