Environmental Toxins are Endocrine Disruptors
As amazing as it may sound, toxicity can contribute to obesity and diabetes. Animal research and human epidemiological (correlative) studies have shown that xenobiotics (literally: foreign to life) or man-made chemicals that contaminate our environment, do indeed play a role in obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, autism, cancer, heart disease, psychiatric conditions, infertility and...virtually all the chronic degenerative diseases. Right now, our focus is on diabetes.
Many people believe obesity causes diabetes. A typical quote from a new patient of mine is something like,"I know if I lose this spare tire I'm carrying around the middle, my diabetes will go away." This is actually only part of the story. Too much fat around the middle is part of the problem. An important question to consider is, "Does obesity cause insulin resistance (the abnormality that produces diabetes) or does insulin resistance cause obesity?" Actually, insulin resistance causes obesity. Obesity exacerbates insulin resistance.
Toxicity is another piece of the puzzle. An interesting study looked at the association between obesity, GGT levels, and diabetes. What's GGT? GGT is an enzyme that increases with toxicity. More specifically, GGT increases to help replenish glutathione levels. Glutathione is one of the body's important biochemicals for detoxifying. Glutathione binds to a variety of toxins and drags them out of the body. When the body is using a lot of glutathione to rid itself of toxins, GGT activity increases to help restore glutathione. So, elevated GGT is an indication of toxicity.
People in this study were divided into four groups according to their GGT levels. They were also divided into four groups based upon BMI, or body mass index. BMI is a way of comparing weight to height (in kilograms per meters squared). The four BMI groups were: <25 (normal weight), 25-29.9 (overweight), 30-34.5 (obese), and > 35. Surprisingly, there was no connection between BMI levels and type 2 diabetes in the quartile (group) with the lowest GGT levels.
In the group with the highest GGT levels, there was a strong correlation between BMI and diabetes. Compared to the low (<25) BMI group, the incidence of diabetes was 310% higher in the 25-29.9, 510% higher in the 30-34.5, and 620% higher in the > 35. To conclude, these findings indicate that in the absence of toxicity, obesity does not contribute to diabetes. Also, in the presence of toxicity, increasing BMI worsens blood sugar metabolism.
Other studies have found a connection between toxicity and diabetes. One study looked at the possible connection between blood levels of POPs (persistent organic pollutants, or environmental chemicals), BMI and insulin resistance. The authors of this study concluded:
"These findings, coupled with those concerning diabetes prevalence, suggest that OC [organochlorine] pesticides and nondioxin-like PCBs may be associated with type 2 diabetes risk by increasing insulin resistance, and POPs may interact with obesity to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes."
Why do environmental toxins or POPs contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes? POPs are endocrine disruptors. They interfere with the normal function of the body's hormones in many ways.
POPs also poison cellular energy production. A study on rats examined the effects of the commonly-used herbicide called Atrazine. One group of rats was given very small doses of Atrazine in their food. Another group was not. Both groups of rats ate the same amount of food and got the same amount of physical activity. Atrazine was found to damage mitochondria, the parts of cells where 95% of the body's energy is produced. The Atrazine-exposed group had lower basal metabolic rate, increased body weight and body fat, and insulin resistance. To reiterate, without a change in diet or exercise, toxicity impaired energy production, caused fat gain, and resulted in insulin resistance - the precursor to diabetes.
So, what can be done about the toxicity-diabetes connection. Each case needs to be tailored but a few simple changes will help. Choose organic food and use a water filtration system to limit toxin consumption. Not only is the water you drink important but the water you bathe in is as well because toxins enter through the skin and are inhaled in water vapor. Contact me if you would like recommendations on water filtration systems.
If a good functional medicine evaluation finds toxicity to be an issue (for example, a high-normal GGT level) there are a number of nutrients that are important. Reduced glutathione (Readisorb Liposomal Glutathione) or its precursors are key. Other nutrients and other detoxification treatments are often important and are best recommended based on a thorough evaluation.