Study links diabetes to banned chemical pesticide DDT | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now Austin News, Weather, Traffic KEYE-TV Austin - HOME
Jul 242009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Diabetes is one of the most prevalent and deadly diseases in the U.S. — and its cause, or causes, is subject to debate.

Millions of dollars in research funding and many studies have linked both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes to a cornucopia of causes or triggers: genetics, obesity, viruses, lack of exercise, breastfeeding, excessive hygiene, climate, age, ethnicity, high blood pressure, immunizations, lack of vitamin D and more.

Researchers are focusing more attention on possible contaminant or pollutant causes of diabetes. Studies have pointed fingers at arsenic, BPA, PCBs, selenium, Agent Orange, lead, benzene, other dioxins or combinations of those.

A new study suggests a link between diabetes and the chemical remnant of a deadly pesticide.

Traces of DDE are in the bodies of almost all Americans, the CDC has said. It is the metabolic residue of DDT, a lethal pesticide banned in America more than 35 years ago. Even though DDT is not used today, its chemical legacy lives on in DDE, produced as the body breaks down the pesticide, which was banned in the United States more than 35 years ago.

“Even though we haven’t used DDT in decades, its metabolites are still detected in almost everyone in the country,” said lead researcher Mary Turyk, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s School of Public Health, in a statement.

The newly released study looked at a large group of people who eat varying amounts of sport fish caught in the Great Lakes. The study started with 4,200 participants in 1992. Eleven years later, 1,788 of those original participants provided health information to the researchers, and 293 of those who gave blood in ’92 again provided samples in 2004-05.

Their findings: Thirty-six cases of diabetes showed up after the study began. That translated to a rate of about 9 diabetics for every 1,000. The more sport fish that had been eaten by survey participants, particularly men, the greater their incidence of diabetes.

Their conclusion: DDE exposure was linked to the incidence of diabetes in the study’s participants.  Five researchers, two from the University of Illinois – Chicago and three from Wisconsin’s Bureau of Environmental Health, conducted the study. Their findings are in July’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Several experts have suggested there should be more study of potential links between pollutants and diabetes, according to one report.

The president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association agrees that there is “genuine concern about what is in the water we drink and the food we eat that we don’t know about.” Dr. R. Paul Robertson called attention to “oxidative stress” (the result of free radicals in the body interacting with cellular molecules that can damage genes, among other things).  “Oxidative stress is a key thing to focus on, because for years there have been reports that people with Type 2 diabetes have increased levels of oxidants in their blood. That could come from the environment, or it might be the result of high glucose levels.”

The study is offered with some caveats. It is observational, and not large or long enough to confirm a direct link from DDE to diabetes. There was no control group to compare against the participants’ dietary (or other) behaviors. (That could have taken other factors into consideration, such as overall excessive eating by those who ate more fish.) But the study adds to a number of contaminant/diabetes studies that may eventually connect the dots between chemicals and the disease

That would come as good news to the more than 23.6 million people in the U.S. – 7.8 percent of the population — with diabetes.

“We have to get serious with this, because we’re losing this war,” the ADA’s Robertson said. He cited the growing incidence of diabetes in Native Americans. “Why? We don’t understand. We have to find out . . . what genes are behind some of this.”

PHOTOS: top, blood glucose testing, American Association of Family Physicians; second, samples of DDT from the 1940s and ’50s, Smithsonian Legacies

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