Between 1983 and 2008, the number of people in the world with diabetes shot up from 35 million to 240 million, an almost seven-fold increase. While massive efforts have been made to develop and market new drugs to treat the disease (often putting profits before patients, as I explained in my last blog post), little has been done to discover the real cause of this epidemic.
It is easy to blame the rise in diabetes on the patients themselves, assuming they are mostly overweight or obese, with a sedentary lifestyle and a diet that is too high in sugar and saturated fat. Because obesity and diabetes often go hand in hand, they have even started to be referred to by a single word – “diabesity”. But, while eating a sensible, low-GI diet and getting regular exercise are important in preventing and managing diabetes, recent research suggests that the causes of diabetes go far beyond the obvious ones.
Earlier this year, a Korean study showed that toxic chemicals in the environment may be making us both more obese and more diabetic. The researchers found that blood levels of chemicals classed as “persistent organic pollutants”, or POPs, such as organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were strongly and consistently linked to type 2 diabetes and to obesity, insulin resistance and unhealthy blood fat profiles. The prevalence of diabetes was five times higher in people with the greatest concentrations of toxins than in those with the least.
The real bombshell in this research, though, was the finding that in people with low levels of POPs obesity is not linked to diabetes. The link only becomes apparent when levels of pollutants are moderate or high. The implication is that virtually all of the diabetes risk that comes with obesity is attributable to environmental toxins and that obesity is only a vehicle for such chemicals. “Diabesity” is only a reality because of the environmental poisons that we carry inside us.
The toxic burden in our air, food and water – and so in our bodies – grows higher year by year. Around three billion tonnes of artificial chemicals are manufactured worldwide every year. Some of these we expose ourselves to in the form of toiletries and domestic products, such as detergents and air fresheners. For instance, women have higher levels of toxins called phthalates than do men, due to their greater use of personal grooming products. New research from Harvard Medical School has shown that having a high level of phthalates could double your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
Other toxins come from the air we breathe and from our drinking water. Much of the burden, though, is passed on to us when we eat the meat (and particularly the fat) of animals. Agricultural chemicals present in animal feeds and on pastures accumulate in animal fat. So do toxins that are circulated around the globe in the oceans. The incidence of diabetes is five times higher in native people in the Canadian Arctic than in the general population, as a result of the environmental pollutants that accumulate in their traditional diet of wild game and fish.
According to a recent review article in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, environmental toxins slow down the metabolism and contribute to weight gain and diabetes. They act through multiple mechanisms, which include disrupting enzymes, impairing glucose transport, causing oxidative stress, inducing inflammatory cytokines, and damaging the energy-producing mitochondria inside cells. Toxins induce insulin resistance by interfering with the function of a class of transcription factors (proteins that switch on genes) called PPARs, which are needed for optimal insulin function, blood sugar control and the regulation of inflammation.
How to protect yourself from environmental toxins
None of us can avoid environmental toxins and pollutants entirely, but it is prudent to take the following steps to ensure that your toxic burden is as low as possible:
- Don’t use more household chemicals and personal grooming products than absolutely necessary. Take a look at less dangerous alternatives (several internet sites offer good suggestions).
- Eat organically grown food as far as practicable within your budget. Try to eat organic meat in particular and avoid cured or processed meat products.
- Improve liver and bowel functions by including fresh vegetable juices and healthy amounts of fibre, probiotics, and digestive enzymes every day.
- Help your liver to break down and remove toxins, by getting plenty of sleep and by taking supplements of milk thistle, n-acetyl cysteine, and alpha lipoic acid.
- Do a one-week “detox”, twice a year. Talk to a nutritional therapist for advice on how to do this.
- If your health allows, work up a sweat regularly from vigorous exercise or by taking a sauna.
On a lighter note, you can’t have missed the fact that Halloween is just around the corner, with stacks of pumpkins in every supermarket. But these autumn vegetables aren’t only good for carving into lanterns; they are packed with beneficial nutrients and have been shown in recent research to help prevent diabetes.I’ll be telling you more about this in my next blog post.
Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
1. Lee DH. Persistent organic pollutants and obesity-related metabolic dysfunction: focusing on type 2 diabetes. Epidemiol Health. 2012; 34:e2012002.
2. James-Todd T, Stahlhut R, Meeker JD, Powell SG, Hauser R, Huang T, Rich-Edwards J. Urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and diabetes among women in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120(9):1307-1313.
3. Sharp D. Environmental toxins, a potential risk factor for diabetes among Canadian Aboriginals. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2009; 68(4):316-326.
4. Hyman MA. Environmental toxins, obesity and diabetes: an emerging risk factor. Altern Ther Health Med. 2010; 16(2):56-58.
Category: Diabetes News Views