9 Unexpected Diabetes Triggers
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9 Unexpected Diabetes Triggers

Dr. Josh Axe — Food is Medicine
Feb 12, 2018

There's something wrong with the regulation of environmental chemicals and it's affecting our health.

[Food is Medicine] We know that a poor diet and inactivity, two common factors of the Western diet and way of life, can lead to type 2 diabetes. But what's not discussed very much is how so many people are dealing with this disease for other, lesser-known reasons. Reasons that are sometimes outside of their control. (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)

Have you ever thought about type 2 diabetes as an illness of the environment? In our lifetime, we're exposed to thousands of chemicals, sometimes on a daily basis. From the BPA found in canned goods to vehicle exhaust and phthalates found in certain plastic, these environmental chemicals may alter your metabolic function in a major way. It may seem confusing, but think about how chemicals around us impact hormone balance and function, including hormones that regulate our metabolism.

According to a cost analysis published in The Lancet in 2016, diseases related to household chemicals cost the United States $340 billion annually, which is about 2.33 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The economic burden of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals is much higher in the U.S. compared to Europe, which spends $217 billion annually. That's due to differences in chemical regulations, according to researchers. (1)

So, what do these numbers and alarming diabetes rates tell us? There's something wrong with the regulation of environmental chemicals and it's affecting our health. Until some serious changes are made to the way we circulate chemicals into our foods and products, being aware of the most serious unexpected diabetes triggers and how to avoid exposure to these chemicals in the future can make a huge impact.

Type 2 Diabetes Triggers: It's Not All About Food & Exercise

It's true that type 2 diabetes is caused by a poor diet and lack of exercise, but recent research suggests there's more to the story. The numbers just aren't adding up. For instance, the International Federation of Diabetes reports that the global prevalence of diabetes was 415 million people in 2015 and is expected to rapidly increase to 642 million people in 2040. (2) With widespread awareness about diet's and exercise's role in type 2 diabetes, why the rapid increase in cases?

This could mean that a diabetic diet plan or more crunches won't necessarily work for everyone when it comes to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Scientists are increasingly interested in the role of environmental chemicals in the epidemics of both diabetes and obesity. Studies show links between several environmental exposures and type 2 diabetes, plus, evidence to support a "developmental obesogen" hypothesis, which suggests that chemical exposures may even increase the risk of obesity by altering the development of neural circuits that regulate our feeding behavior. (3)

Traditional risk factors for diabetes, such as obesity, lack of physical activity, old age and family history of diabetes, cannot alone explain the rapidly increasing prevalence of this disease. Certain environmental chemicals and heavy metals that contaminate the air, water and soil chronically expose children, adults and women in their prenatal period, amplifying this epidemic. (4)

9 Unexpected Diabetes Triggers

1. Arsenic

Research shows that chronic exposure to arsenic can interfere with insulin secretion and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, arsenic "contaminates the drinking water of approximately 100 million people globally and has been associated with insulin resistance and diabetes." In the study, mice exposed to sub-toxic levels of inorganic arsenic in drinking water for eight weeks exhibited impaired glucose tolerance compared to controls. Researchers also found that arsenic exposure induced alternations in daily food intake patterns and energy metabolism. Scientists concluded that exposure to arsenic impairs glucose tolerance by altering insulin secretion from beta cells that are found in the pancreas and changing behaviors that affect metabolic function. (5)

Arsenic is detected in our water, oil, air and food. Sadly, it's impossible to avoid arsenic exposure because it's found naturally in our environment. On top of that, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't set limits for total arsenic in our foods, which is why it's been detected in common foods like rice, chicken, apple juice and protein powder. And besides the arsenic in your rice, it's still used in a variety of ways, like as a feeding additive, as an insecticide, to preserve wood, as a pesticide, in pharmaceuticals and pigments. Until our government puts federal standards in place to reduce the presence of arsenic in our food and environment, you can begin to limit arsenic exposure by eating organic, whole foods and limiting grains. (6)

2. BPA

BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a synthetic compound that's used to produce certain plastics, canned foods, toys, medical devices and drink liners. Research shows that BPA is associated with a wide variety of health disorders and it has potential endocrine-disrupting and diabetogenic effects. According to a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, human and lab studies suggest that BPA exposure is linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The synthetic compound acts directly on pancreatic cells and impairs insulin and glucagon secretion, thereby triggering an insulin-resistant state.

Data shows that BPA levels are highest in formula-fed infants using polycarbonate bottles, with estimated intakes of 11 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. It's estimated that the daily intake for adults is about 1.5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Toxic levels of BPA, which can have adverse health effects, is five micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. And buyer beware: Many products that are labeled BPA-free now contain BPS (bisphenol S) and other chemicals that can also lead to metabolic disorders. To avoid BPA toxic effects, use glass containers and high-quality stainless-steel containers whenever possible. (7)

And say no to trivial cash register receipts, which are usually coated with BPA or related compounds.

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