For years now we’ve been told that Diabetes is a lifestyle disease; in effect, the result of our reliance on the “meat-sweet” diet and our avoidance of regular exercise.

While our “lifestyle” certainly plays a role in the onset of diabetes, according to several new studies, the actual cause may in fact be the result of our exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Dioxins and synthetic pesticides like DDT.

“If it is the POPs, not the obesity that causes diabetes, this is really striking if true,” says Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany.

In 2007, Dr. Carpenter took part in a study that examined the diabetes-pollution link in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne. Located near the St. Lawrence River across the New York-Ontario-Quebec borders, three nearby aluminum foundries dumped PCBs into the river for decades; contaminating the water, soil, and vegetation.

“Our study of adult Mohawks showed a striking elevation in rates of diabetes in relation to blood levels of three persistent organic pollutants, DDE, the metabolite of DDT, hexachlorobenzene and PCBs,” Dr. Carpenter explains.

More than a dozen other studies have produced similar results. Most notably, in 1998, Michalek et al published the landmark “Ranch Hand Study,”  which examined US Air Force personnel who were sprayed with the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The Ranch hand study found a 166 per cent increase in diabetes requiring insulin control in veterans with the highest levels of dioxin in their blood. It also found that, as dioxin levels increased,  the presence and severity of type 2 diabetes increased, while the time to onset similarly declined.

An October 2009 study by Professor Anna Rignell-Hydbom at Lund University replicated the findings of the Ranch Hand study, confirming that DDT exposure “can be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes”.

Despite the mounting evidence, however, the diabetes-pollution link is getting next to no attention, whether by governments, news agencies, or non-profit groups dedicated to preventing diabetes. “[It] hasn’t even made it into the medical community at this point,” adds, Dr. Carpenter.  “It takes a long time to change both medical and public opinion.”

Meanwhile, the number of diabetes cases will continue to skyrocket out of control, adding to the 284 million people are already diagnosed, according to the International Diabetes Federation’s Diabetes Atlas.

Existing treatment and prevention strategies are also expected to become increasingly inadequate, especially for the populations most effected by the disease: namely, indigenous people.

If you would like to learn more about the diabetes-pollution link, please see the report, Bitter Sweet or Toxic? by John Schertow

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