Fat Chance: Does Pollution Cause Diabetes?
We can debate many things, but the type 2 diabetes crisis isn't one of them. It's an epidemic, and the causes seem pretty clear: diet choices, sedentary living, and expanding waistlines are paving the way. But there may be another culprit, and it's a doozy.
To recap, something is seriously awry. Over 8% of all Americans, some 26 million people, have diabetes, and 1.9 million new cases are diagnosed every year. In addition, roughly 79 million additional U.S. adults have prediabetes, the condition that often leads to the disease.
Those kind of numbers have public health officials clutching their worry beads. They're so big that many are wondering if something is up besides the readings on our bathroom scales. Are other forces also tilting those scales, affecting our metabolism, and making it easier for us to get diabetes?
The answer is no - there's no something else. There's a whole unhealthy horde of potential "diabesogens" and we've heard from all of them before:
- Air pollution. At least eight studies have found a connection between exposure to air pollution and insulin sensitivity or diabetes.
- Phthalates. High levels of certain phthalate break-down products in the body have been linked to diabetes onset.
- Bisphenol-A (BPA). A 2013 study of children found a correlation between BPA exposure and obesity, a key diabetes trigger. Another study tied BPA directly to diabetes.
- High fructose corn syrup. Researchers studying diabetes in 43 countries discovered a connection between the disease and consumption of this common food ingredient.
- Perfluorinated chemicals. Several of these compounds are associated with disrupted insulin production and diabetes itself.
- Pesticides. Exposures to organochlorine, organophosphate, and carbamate pesticides have been linked to the metabolic issues associated with the onset of diabetes.
So far there's no evidence that definitively declares any of these a direct cause of diabetes. We'll need a lot more science before we break out those headlines. But the hints we've got today are more than enough to suggest precautionary actions like these:
- Question everything. Scrutinize product labels and don't use things whose safety is unknown or suspect. When we train ourselves to habitually examine everything we do, buy, and use from an environmental perspective, we help build a much healthier life for our families.
- Pack your plate with fruits and vegetables. Some help stabilize blood sugar. Others contain phytonutrients that improve metabolism and help the body detoxify itself.
- Read food labels and choose those with no-to-low sugar and no high fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid key sources of phthalates like fragranced products, air fresheners, cosmetics, and vinyl.
- Steer clear of perfluorinated products like stain-proofing fabric treatments and non-stick cookware.
- Skip products with BPA like canned foods, dental sealants, polycarbonate plastics, cash register and ATM receipts.
- Use HEPA air filters if you live in an area prone to air pollution. They'll help keep indoor air safer to breathe.
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.