We have been told that the causes of Type 2 diabetes typically include genetics (we can inherit being at risk for the disease) as well as lifestyle factors such as obesity, inactivity, and consuming high-fat, high-sugar foods. When you combine genetic susceptibility and lifestyle choices, the result for some people can be insulin resistance (inability to use insulin properly) and Type 2 diabetes. A less common form of Type 2 diabetes can occur in people who simply don’t produce enough insulin.
But what if I told you there are other causes of Type 2 diabetes that don’t get the attention they should or get mentioned by doctors to their patients. These other causes are environmental toxins, and if we and our children make efforts to avoid them-and we also heed the conventional lifestyle factors-then we all have a better chance of avoiding this life-altering disease.
It turns out there’s more than antibiotic resistance to worry about when taking these drugs. Antibiotic use has been associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, as demonstrated by a number of studies.
For example, a large (5.6 million) population study conducted in Denmark over a 12-year period found a 1.53 increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes among individuals who took antibiotics of any type. The risk was slightly greater for narrow-spectrum and bactericidal antibiotics when compared to broad-spectrum and bacteriostatic antibiotics. The more exposure people had to antibiotics, the greater their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Action: You and your children should take antibiotics only when they are absolutely necessary and indicated by the condition or disease. Effective alternatives should always be considered first.
2. Bisphenol A
A 2016 study from Italy explored the impact of BPA (bisphenol-A) on the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. BPA is an organic synthetic compound used in the production of plastics, including beverage bottles and the coating on the inside of metal food cans. Most of the observational studies in people have shown a positive link between exposure to BPA and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Even at low doses, BPA may increase this risk by acting directly on pancreatic cells, which in turn interrupts insulin secretion.
Action: Avoid exposure to BPA, which can be found in some canned foods (especially avoid tomato products in cans), some plastic bottles (always avoid water bottles; use reusable stainless steel), plastic storage containers (avoid #7 and use #4 if you must), and cash register receipts.
Flame-resistant chemicals include brominated flame retardants (BFRs) such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). PBDEs may still be found in some electronics and furniture, while HBCD is used in polystyrene foam and textiles. We are exposed to PBBs primarily through diet, although the amounts that remain in the environment are low since they were banned in the United States in 1976. All flame retardants can accumulate in the body’s tissues.
Scientists have found that some BFRs are associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Two Chinese studies uncovered a link between PBDE exposure and diabetes. The Environmental Working Group reports that even though PBDEs have been removed from the market, they have been replaced by compounds such as chlorinated tris (TCDIPP) and Firemaster 550. These replacements have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer.
Action: Avoid use of furniture, clothing, or other items that have been treated with flame-resistant chemicals, even the so-called safe replacements.
A new Texas A&M University review study highlights a connection between exposure to mercury, such as from contaminated fish, dental work, and environmental means, and the development of diabetes. The authors point out that methyl mercury has been shown to have a negative impact on the development and function of cells responsible for insulin production and release (pancreatic beta cells) and its role “in the reported worldwide increase in diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes.”
Action: If you eat fish or other seafood, choose those least likely to have accumulated levels of mercury, such as clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp, sardines, tilapia, salmon, and anchovies. Fish to avoid include tuna, tilefish, mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, and grouper.
Commonly used pesticides, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorines, have been associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. We are exposed to PCBs mainly through foods such as meat, poultry, and fish, while organochlorines have been largely banned in North America, although they can still be found in the environment and in storage facilities.
The association between exposure to PCBs and organochlorines and development of Type 2 diabetes was explored in a population study of 725 older adults. After the scientists made adjustments for obesity and other risk factors, they found a substantially increased risk of future Type 2 diabetes among older adults.
Action: If you eat meat, fish, and poultry, choose organically produced products only.
Millions of prescriptions are written every year for statins, which are drugs used to help lower cholesterol. One of the numerous dangers of taking statins is an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In an October 2016 study appearing in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs, investigators looked at people (53,212) without a history of diabetes who were prescribed statins versus a group (53,212) who did not take statins.
The proportion of statins user who subsequently developed diabetes was nearly three times greater than among those who did not take statins. The statins associated with the greatest risk of diabetes were atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, and simvastatin.
Action: If your doctor wants to prescribe a statin, insist on trying natural lifestyle alternatives to lowering your cholesterol, including diet, exercise, and herbal remedies such as garlic, red yeast rice, guggulipid, and policosanol.
Environmental Working Group. Tip 4: Avoid flame retardants
Food and Drug Administration. Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish
Green Facts. PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls.
Lee DH et al. Polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides in plasma predict development of type 2 diabetes in the elderly: the prospective investigation of the vasculature in Uppsala Seniors (PIVUS) study. Diabetes Care 2011 Aug; 34(8): 1778-84
Lim JS et al. Association of brominated flame retardants with diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the US population, 2003-2004. Diabetes Care 2008 Sep; 31(9): 1802-7
Mikkelsen KH et al. Use of antibiotics and risk of type 2 diabetes: a population-based case-control study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2015 Oct; 100(10): 3633-40
Olotu BS et al. Use of statins and the risk of incident diabetes: a retrospective cohort study. American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs 2016 Oct; 16(5): 377-90.
Provvisiero DP et al. Influence of bisphenol A on type 2 diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2016 Oct 6; 13(10): pii
Schumacher L, Abbott LC. Effects of methyl mercury exposure on pancreatic beta cell development and function. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2017 Jan; 37(1): 4-12
Zhang Z et al. Environmental exposure to BDE47 is associated with increased diabetes prevalence: evidence from community-based case-control studies and an animal experiment. Scientific Reports 2016 Jun 13; 6:27854