Diabetes Is a Global Problem
Obesity and lack of exercise are the reason so many people have Type 2 diabetes, or at least that’s what Americans have been told. According to the media, the disease is caused by our Western lifestyle choices.
Here’s what we haven’t been told.
According to the World Health Organization, half the diabetes cases in the world are in two regions: in Southeast Asia (96 million, including India, Thailand and Indonesia) and the Western Pacific (131 million, which includes China, Australia, Japan and New Zealand). The greatest increase in diabetes in the past 25 years has been in the Eastern Mediterranean region (Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan).
Diabetes affects all ages, genders, races and economic classes. About 77 percent of the world’s diabetic population lives in low- and middle-income countries and almost half of the people with the disease are in the 40-to 59-year-old range.
Dr. Peter Butler, a UCLA faculty member and the Director of the Larry Hillblom Islet Research Center at UCLA, addressed the Type 2 diabetes epidemic at the Palisades Optimist club meeting on November 27.
“Evidence suggests that background exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POP) can increase Type 2 diabetes risk in humans,” Butler said, citing a 2014 Endocrine Review Journal.
“Sedentary lifestyle and obesity, sleep disruption, pregnancy and chronic liver disease are risk factors,” Butler said, “but none of those predict who will actually get diabetes. Not everyone who is obese will get Type 2 Diabetes, just as not all pregnant women develop the disease. Even slim people get diabetes.”
In studying who is more likely to get Type 2 diabetes, scientists first looked at family history. Insulin is controlled by the beta cells located in the islets of the pancreas.
Those who develop Type 2 diabetes or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s have beta cells that suffer toxic oligomers (damages the membrane). “The number of beta cells–the number you going to have for life–are present by age 5 and there is a 10-fold variance in individuals,” Butler said. “People with diabetes have a shortage of beta cells.”
But, if one takes away genetics, scientist now suspect that a culprit in developing Type 2 diabetes (and even Alzheimer’s) is POPs persistent organic pollutants.
In the Endocrine Review, an August 2014 story reported: “Obesity itself is not a sufficient cause of Type 2 diabetes (T2D). Neither is genetics sufficient in the vast majority of cases. Recently, evidence has linked environmental chemicals with obesity, insulin resistance and T2D.”
Butler explained that POPs have recently come under scrutiny as related to diabetes. Initially, weed spray was sprayed on crops, but it was water soluble, which meant anytime it rained, the poison washed off and into the ground and into the water system.
Chemists developed a non-water-soluble spray, which meant farmers didn’t have to repeatedly spray, but it also means that the poison can’t be washed off with water.
“If you wash off your vegetables like most of us do,” Butler said, “POP’s are still present.” He advises buying a vegetable/salad “soap,” such as Veggie Wash (sold at Trader Joe’s) and using it before consuming your greens.
Butler explained that if a farmer’s crops are wiped out due to insects or a disease, this means it’s economically disastrous, so chemicals are brought in to ensure the crop survives.
Unfortunately, the POPs have entered the food chain and have gone into the oceans. “Some sushi restaurants in L.A. were tested for POP and had a high incidence in the food,” Butler said.
Sources of pollution from POPs include the improper use and/or disposal of agrochemicals and industrial chemicals, elevated temperatures and combustion processes, and unwanted by-products of industrial processes or combustion.
In a 2015 JAMA article “Curbing the Diabetes Pandemic,” the authors write: “The prevalence of diabetes and obesity has increased rapidly over the last few decades in both developed and developing countries. While it is intuitively appealing to suggest that lifestyle risk factors such as decreased physical activity and adoption of poor diets can explain much of the increase, the evidence to support this is poor.
“Given this, there has been an impetus to look at risk factors, which arise from the environment. Since the industrial revolution, there has been an introduction of many chemicals into our environment, which have now become environmental pollutants. There has been growing interest in one key class of environmental pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).”
Already in a 2002 National Institute of Health paper “Chemical Toxins: A Hypothesis to Explain the global Obesity Epidemic,” the authors wrote: “What has, up to now, been overlooked is that the earth’s environment has changed significantly during the last few decades because of the exponential production and usage of synthetic organic and inorganic chemicals.
“This paper presents a hypothesis that the current level of human exposure to these chemicals may have damaged many of the body’s natural weight-control mechanisms. Furthermore, it is posited here that these effects, together with a wide range of additional, possibly synergistic, factors may play a significant role in the worldwide obesity epidemic.”
In a 2010 Environmental Health Perspective article, a scientist wrote: “Several POPs at low doses similar to current exposure levels may increase diabetes risk, possibly through endocrine disruption. Certain POPs may a play a role in the current epidemic of diabetes, which has been attributed to obesity.”
Pollutants can be transported by wind and water and persist for long periods of time in the environment. They accumulate in the individual and can pass from one species to the next through the food chain. The pollutants do not degrade easily.
At the 2001 Stockholm Convention, the United States, along with 90 other countries, agreed to reduce or eliminate production, use and/or release of 12 key POP’s. Those produced directly include aldrin, chlordane, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene. Two were intentionally produced, but also were the result of industrial processes and include hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Two are directly the result of industrial processes and combustion and include polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (dioxins) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans).
In 2009, additional chemicals were added to the Stockholm Convention. They included pesticides that were based on alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, lindane and pentachlorobenzene; industrial chemicals such as: hexabromobiphenyl, hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride, tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether; and by products.
The takeaway? The diabetes pandemic cannot be blamed solely on risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, sleep disruption and liver disease.
Individuals with those factors are only one subset of the millions of people who are affected by Type 2 diabetes.