Certain pesticides increase people’s risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a recent Finnish study, if they are overweight or obese.
The researchers found that organochlorines, which are banned or restricted in many countries, impaired the body’s ability to regulate glucose.
PCBs, which have been banned for several decades, are thought to have a similar effect.
The chemicals have persisted to a certain degree in the environment, especially in the body fat of animals and humans.
Typically, people are at a high risk of exposing themselves to the chemicals when they eat dairy and oily fish.
Lead researcher Riikka Airaksinen, of the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, said that the effect of the pollutants accruing in people’s body fat may have a synergistic effect on the development of type 2 diabetes.
Some of the compounds have themselves also been shown to promote obesity.
For the study, the researchers measured the blood levels of the pollutants in about 2,000 older adults.
Over 15% of those people had type 2 diabetes, and people’s likelihood of having diabetes grew as their exposure to the pesticides grew.
People in the top tenth percentile of exposure were twice as likely to have diabetes as people in the bottom tenth percentile, if they were also overweight or obese.
Airaksinen said that the finding pointed toward, but did not prove, that there was a causal link between the substances and having type 2 diabetes.
Even though the researchers did all they could to minimise the possibility of statistical interference, they did not measure relevant things such as diet and exercise habits, which could also have affected the outcome of the study.
David R. Jacobs, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the recent study, said that he personally feared there was a causal link between chlorinated persistent organic pollutants and diabetes.
He said that there was a large scientific background of cell-based and animal research that showed how such compounds disrupted people’s endocrine function.
While people should aim to limit the amount of animal fats in their diet, the health benefits of the polyunsaturated fats in oily fish usually outweigh the downsides of eating animal fat.
Airaksinen said that he and his colleagues had studied a Finnish group of professional fishermen, who consumed an unusually high amount of fish.
He said that the death rate for the fishermen was lower than the general Finnish population.
Jacobs said that persistent organic pollutants of the past could still generally be found everywhere in the fatty tissues of living organisms
He also said that while the pesticides in use today did not persist, a chemical that was bad for the health of one life form was not likely to be good for humans.
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