Environ Health Perspect. 2007 October; 115(10): 1442–1447.
Published online 2007 July 17. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10315. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original DOI.
Research Diabetes in Relation to Serum Levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides in Adult Native Americans
Recent research suggests that diabetes, a condition whose incidence is increasing, is associated with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorinated pesticides.
Objectives. We investigated the potential association between diabetes and serum levels of PCBs, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and mirex in a cross-sectional study of an adult Native-American (Mohawk) population.
Methods. Through a standardized questionnaire we collected demographic, medical, and lifestyle information from 352 adults, ≥30 years of age. We collected fasting serum samples that were analyzed for 101 PCB congeners, DDE, HCB, and mirex along with fasting glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Participants who had fasting-glucose values > 125 mg/dL and/or who were taking antidiabetic medication were defined as persons with diabetes. We conducted logistic regression to assess the potential association between organochlorine serum levels and diabetes, while controlling for the potential confounding variables of age, body mass index (BMI), smoking, sex, and serum lipid levels. Organochlorine serum levels were categorized in tertiles, and the lowest tertile was used as the reference category.
Results. The prevalence of diabetes was 20.2%. The odds ratio (OR) of having diabetes for participants in the highest tertile of total PCB concentration compared with the lowest tertile was 3.9 (95% confidence interval, 1.5–10.6). The corresponding ORs for DDE and HCB were even higher. Elevated serum mirex was not associated with diabetes. After adjustment for other analytes, the OR for HCB remained significant, whereas ORs for PCBs and DDE remained elevated but not statistically significant. In contrast, after adjustment for other analytes, the OR for mirex became statistically significant and indicated an inverse association.
Conclusions. In this study of adult Native Americans, elevated serum PCBs, DDE, and HCB were positively associated with diabetes after controlling for potential confounders, whereas a negative association was observed for mirex.
Discussion. Although diabetes has not usually been considered to be an environmentally induced disease, we have found a significant association between serum PCB and pesticide levels and diabetes in an adult Native-American population after adjustment for age, BMI, serum lipid levels, sex, and smoking. Although these results do not establish cause and effect, there is a growing body of evidence that environmental exposure to persistent organochlorine compounds is associated with elevated incidence of this disease.
Conclusion. In this cross-sectional study, serum concentrations of total PCBs, two single PCB congeners, DDE, and HCB were positively associated with an elevated incidence of diabetes in an adult Native-American population. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to organochlorine compounds increases the risk of developing diabetes. A negative association was found between the serum concentration of mirex and diabetes. This finding has not been previously reported and merits further investigation.
The study quoted above ought to have been given the kind of repetitious ballyhoo that was instead given to bariatric surgery, a quick and easy (if expensive) way to get rid of fat in order to “cure” diabetes. (My doctor agrees with me that it is the elimination of the FAT that cures the diabetes -- not the surgery, which mostly augments hospital and doctor incomes.) One can get rid of fat by changing the WAY one eats, not by starving -- not less food but a different kind of food. By eliminating white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, and processed foods, I’ve painlessly dropped fifty pounds and continue to lose. (I’m at 195 now.)
But how can a person eliminate Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides? Especially in an ag town where spraying crops means a profit edge that’s much needed. Does my Diabetes 2 (and many other local cases, NOT necessarily in Native Americans) coincide with the airport up the street from me beginning to sell crop chemicals? Should I be getting my blood checked for Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides? Are these hard-working conscientious farmers be inadvertently killing their grandmothers?
Akwesasne is a back-east, near-industry, polluted-river place where one would expect a high level of chemical contamination and, anyway, with slightly different chemicals than here in Valier. Just the same, a few stories about soil contamination in Valier (there is a move to sink a new well next to the airport) and the real estate people who were counting on zoning jiggering to increase their profits can kiss their market goodby, credit bubble burst or no bubble burst. A few analyses that show contamination of the fish -- ice fishing is a huge activity here in the winter and small boats are on the lake all summer -- and all the fancy work on upgrading the campground is for naught.
So the same kind of battle that was fought over smoking and is still being fought over global warming and coal-fired energy plants, will now be fought about curing Diabetes 2. Some will be looking for drugs that will “heal” the dysmetabolism (which is the term now being used) of the condition and others will address the cause, which will be far more painful. I won’t live to see the end of it probably. But at least I know how to minimize the impact on myself. My doctor tells me that very few people make the necessary changes in diet for their own survival. What can I do but proselytize? People will go into debt for thousands of dollars for painful and risky surgery but will not limit their food intake. (It’s not cheaper, I would point out. Fresh ordinary foods cost more than Twinkies and korn kurls.)
Without any prompting from me, my doctor brought up the historical theory that the Roman Empire was destroyed by lead poisoning. But she is far from alone in suggesting that this country might crash because of a wave of bad health -- not caused by a foreign virus but by our own manufacturing byproducts. And it may not be the city people who crash first -- it could be the seemingly idyllic ag landscapes. One of the studies quoted in this paper is about sea turtles given the same blood tests as the Akwesasne Mohawks. The sea turtles, which come ashore only to lay their eggs, showed the same relationship between the chemicals in question and “diabetes” -- dysmetabolism of glucose.