Diabetes Mellitus Due to Food Additives and Pollution?

Diabetes Mellitus

The most commonly noted causes for the rise in diabetes mellitus are obesity and overeating but could food additives and pollution contribute? Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes cases. In 2000, 171 million people worldwide had diabetes and that is expected to increase to 366 million by 2030. This epidemic has received a lot of attention but the fact remains that there is zero evidence that diabetes mellitus results from overeating and a sedentary lifestyle.

The problem with this disease, and many others, is that the mechanisms involved are so complex that approaches to managing the rise are more treatment-based than prevention-based.  The current model explaining type 2 diabetes assumes, without true evidence, that insulin resistance precedes elevated insulin levels. Hyperinsulinemia is thought to be the body’s compensatory response to insulin resistance but there is no understood mechanism by which such resistance triggers secretion.

In 2012, a meta-analysis published by the American Diabetes Association proposed that food additives may trigger type 2 diabetes. The study takes a critical view of the current disease model and the commonly blamed culprits: obesity, overeating, and an inactive lifestyle. Though the authors are of the opinion that hypersecretion of insulin is the catalyst of insulin resistance they conclude that there are likely many factors which could contribute.

One realistic environmental trigger for diabetes cited in the ADA analysis is BPA (bisphenol A).  BPA has been found to impair β-cell function, which is the pancreatic cell responsible for producing, storing, and releasing insulin. BPA has been shown in animal studies to have this effect in fetal, neonatal, and perinatal periods as well as adulthood.

A Lancet study, done in 1981, examined one inconsistency in an annual trend of initial diabetes diagnosis. The results suggest that the ingestion of a nitrogenous preservative while pregnant can contribute to diabetes in the offspring. This study specifically examined ketosis-prone diabetes, a particularly severe and more deadly form of diabetes. Although this was observed in type 1 diabetes an impairment of  β-cell function is common to both forms of diabetes suggesting that the potential involvement of food additives and pollution is worthy of further investigation.

Multiple epidemiological studies suggest that pollution might play a causative role in the development of type 2 diabetes. These studies have found consistent correlations between exposures to pollutants and diabetes mellitus. Living in a county in which a toxic waste dump is located increases the risk of developing diabetes, as does contact with certain organic pollutants and specific factories.

While most medical professionals and researchers believe that obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and genetic risk factors are the main culprits of diabetes mellitus, those factors themselves have not been scientifically proven to cause type 2 diabetes. Increasing research is examining the possibility that an interplay of traditionally accepted “causes” of diabetes with environmental factors, such as chemical exposure, are at the root of diabetes mellitus. When the mechanism of disease onset is fully understood the doors will open to finding an effective (non-exacerbating) treatment and possibly even a cure.

By Lara Stielow

American Diabetes Association

National Library of Medicine

US News

International Diabetes Federation

National Institutes of Health

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