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Issue 195: Chemicals and Diabetes

Brush Health

There are a variety of factors that contribute to type 2 diabetes—including an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and more—but now there’s a possible other culprit that adds to the risk of development:  chemicals.

You should avoid chemicals anyway, but the risk of diabetes is yet another reason to stay away from them in your environment and in your personal care and household products. In fact, there are chemicals thought to directly heighten diabetes risk, while others are considered elemental in obesity risk, which is a major factor in developing type 2 diabetes. 

And with more than 26 million Americans who already have diabetes, as well as the 70 million more who are pre-diabetic, it’s important to get a handle on all of the areas that could add to the diabetic matrix. And while looking into chemicals’ role in type 2 diabetes development is still in its early stages, it is being investigated closely. Kristina Thayer, Ph. D., director of the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction in Durham, North Carolina, says, “There is an association between some chemicals in the environment and diabetes. What we don’t know is whether it’s causal.” 

Chemicals specifically being examined include phthalates, a common chemical in soaps, moisturizers, perfumes, nail polish and hair spray. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives noted that women with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine had a 70 percent higher diabetes risk than women with the lowest levels of phthalates in their bodies. Phthalates, by the way, cause birth defects in animals, while U.S. testing indicates that phthalates are retained in human tissue at much higher levels than previously thought. 

Likewise, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs—which are still in our environment even after being banned by the EPA in 1979—are linked to obesity in adults, which alone is a risk for developing diabetes. PCBs are known to cause cancer and can adversely affect immune, reproductive, nervous system and endocrine health in animals.

Dioxins are other chemicals being studied and thought to have some ties to diabetes. They, too, are highly toxic and are known to cause cancer as well as reproductive and developmental problems; damage to the immune system; and can interfere with hormones.

Thayer observes, “A lot of chemicals are very persistent because they stay in fat—that’s where they’re stored in the body. If you have someone overweight or obese, which is its own independent risk factor for diabetes, that person is probably going to have higher levels of these chemicals in their fat. It’s hard to disentangle the effect of the chemical versus the health condition of being overweight or obese.” Thayer adds. “Diabetes could be caused by a number of factors, probably a combination of factors, and it’s possible a chemical in the environment might be an added risk factor,” concludes Thayer.

More research needs to be done on the relationship between chemicals and diabetes, but it’s wise to eat right, exercise regularly and to avoid chemicals in the environment and in everyday products.

While we're at it, it’s not a bad idea to lose any excess weight and to add a seasonal “cleanse” to your health regimen to move toxins—which we all carry to some degree—out of your system. 


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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