(Beyond Pesticides, September 22, 2015) A meta-analysis presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Sweden concludes that exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Although diabetes is long-suspected as involving an interplay between genetics and environmental factors, emerging research is revealing that contaminants like pesticides may play an important role in the pathogenesis of the disease. These findings add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that pesticides play a key role in the development of a wide range of all-too-common diseases in the 21st century.
To assess the association between pesticide exposure and diabetes, the recent research, Association between diabetes and exposure to pesticides: a systematic review and meta-analysis, examine 21 relevant studies comprising over 66,000 people. Most studies determined pesticide exposure through urinary or blood biomarker analysis, a highly reliable method of testing body burden. Exposure to any pesticide is linked to a 61% increase in diabetes. When looking specifically at type 2 diabetes, researchers found similar results, with any pesticide exposure increasing risk of developing the disease by 64%. However, researchers found that, although on the whole pesticides increased the chance of any diabetes diagnosis, certain pesticides exhibited a stronger association than others. While chlordane, the long-banned insecticide that continues to pollute soil and drinking water throughout the country, showed an increased risk of only 19%, exposure to another organochlorine insecticide trans-nonanchlor accounted for a 134% increased risk. “These pesticides are generally banned now in Europe and elsewhere,” said lead author Fotini Kavvoura, MD, PhD, to Medpage Today, “but they tend to stay in the body in the liver, the pancreas, and in muscles.”
Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic, affecting nearly 350 million people across the globe. By 2050, over 550 million are expected to develop the disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million, or 9.3% of the U.S. population has diabetes.
Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is most common in communities of color and the aged population. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.
Authors of the study conclude, “This systematic review supports the hypothesis that exposure to various types of pesticides increases the risk of diabetes. Subgroup analyses did not reveal any differences in the risk estimates based on the type of studies or the measurement of the exposure.”
Beyond Pesticides tracks the science relating pesticides to diabetes and a number of other diseases through the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. As evidenced by the numerous studies categorized in the database, current methods of regulating toxic pesticides by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are insufficient not only for those most susceptible to the effects of pesticides, including children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and the chemically sensitive, but every day, average people are also at risk. Rather than basing public health on balancing risk, an enlightened policy approach asks first whether there is a less toxic, alternative means of achieving a chemical’s intended purpose. This alternative approach differs from a risk-assessment based policy by rejecting uses and exposures considered acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary as a result of the availability of safer alternatives.
The best way to avoid harmful pesticide exposure is the support organic systems. By practicing organic lawn care and pest management, purchasing certified organic food, and encouraging neighbors and the community to do the same, we will escalate the shift away from pesticide dependence and toward a sustainable future.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.