We've all heard the news: type 2 diabetes is epidemic and the situation is going from bad to catastrophic with some 24 million people, or about 8% of the U.S. population, diagnosed as diabetic and, according to CDC estimates, another 57 million suffering from the blood sugar changes that precede the disease. Suddenly, a huge swath of our population has developed or is at risk of developing this dangerous condition. What's going on?
The conventional wisdom says too many Americans simply have a lousy diet oversaturated with fats and sugars that combine in the body to promote the obesity that causes the insulin resistance that triggers type 2 diabetes. But some new research says maybe the cause is chemicals in the environment.
At issue are Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPS, which are carbon-based chemicals (often containing chlorine) that resist biodegradation and build up in the environment and inside people, too. It's a complicated medical detective tale, but here's the Cliff Notes version: Our bodies manufacture an enzyme called GGT that scientists have learned is a strong indicator of diabetes. The higher your GGT levels, the more likely you are to be diabetic. Researchers have also discovered that GGT plays a big role in clearing POPs out of our cells. Putting two and two together, they wondered: Is GGT simply a marker for the true cause of this epidemic and are POPs the real culprit where diabetes is concerned?
The preliminary answer is yes. Because when this theory was explored, scientists found that people with the highest levels of POPs were found to have a rate of diabetes 38 times that of those with the lowest levels. And weight had nothing to do with it. Skinny people with high levels of POPs were likely to be diabetic. Obese people with low levels of POPs were not.
No one really knows what's going on yet, but I believe in a few years this is going to be a major story. (Keep your eyes on it.) Think of this research as the first distant rumble of scientific thunder. If the storm builds, it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back where our chemically-dependent lifestyles are concerned.