Glucose. Simple sugar.
We all know it is at the heart of diabetic dysfunction. But what if there is more to the story? It was recently revealed in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that a decades-old payoff to Harvard researchers by sugar industry representatives resulted in manipulation of scientific analysis (which obscured findings that sugar consumption drives heart disease), and data that show sugar consumption in America rising more than 150 percent during the last century (to more than 100 pounds per person each year). This circumstantial evidence points to dietary choices as a significant reason type 2 diabetes is becoming epidemic.
In the October 2016 edition of Integrative Medicine: A Clinician?s Journal, however, Editor-in-Chief Joseph Pizzorno, ND, shares some surprising early results from research he and his team are conducting into the effects of environmental factors on type 2 diabetes risk.
After leaving private practice, Dr. Pizzorno was hired by a Canadian mining company to help improve the health of its workforce. It hardly needs to be stated that miners work in environments that are often dangerous, where contact with toxic fumes and substances occurs with regularity. His work with this population in reducing toxic load resulted in improved health markers across the board.
Once he witnessed the effects that these largely natural toxins (and removing them) had on the population, and researching the mechanisms of the body?s innate detoxification processes, he became interested in what effects other chemicals may have on the body.
Back in 1961, a researcher coined the term diabetogen in reference to chemicals that could mimic human hormone function and thus cause dysfunction in the body. In the last 55 years, chemical production in pounds has risen more than 1,000 percent. These chemicals are now ubiquitous in the environment. Despite conscious efforts to eat clean food and choose clean personal care and home products, there is no way to completely avoid exposure to chemicals. Even a newborn child carries residues of several hundred chemicals at the moment of birth.
Dr. Pizzorno?s current research project focuses on a class of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, many of which are known diabetogens. The stunning aspect of this enterprise is not that POPs have a role in the type 2 diabetes epidemic, it is that the evidence suggests that they are far more responsible for the epidemic than increased sugar consumption. Dr. Pizzorno writes, ?The diabetes epidemic started four decades after the sugar consumption began to increase and shows little correlation. I am not asserting sugar does not contribute to diabetes. But if this were the primary driver, one would have expected the epidemic to start decades earlier.?
After offering the caveat that correlation is not causation, he provided a graph charting the rise of chemical production, which began to increase after World War 2, against the rise in diabetes rates, which stood at the 1-percent level in 1961. The correlation is obvious to even the casual observer. While he still considers his team?s numbers as ?tentative? at this stage of their research, the group was able to approximate the degree to which several of the top diabetogens contribute to the total volume of the epidemic. Using the same equation derived for calculating the impact of smoking on disease proliferation, they found that arsenic, bisphenol-A (BPA), PCBs, dioxins (other than PCBs) organochloride pesticides, phthalates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (such as those produced in charbroiling food or burning organic materials?think smoking) may contribute as much as 90 percent of the diabetic burden.
The group is still working through the limitations of their findings, which stem mostly from the inability to isolate the individual substances in several studies and these substances? overlapping mechanisms of action on the body. ?Nonetheless, even if we do not know the exact percentage contribution of each toxin, their role in the epidemic appears undeniable,? he writes.
?There is a direct correlation between the amount of arsenic in a person?s body and their risk of diabetes,? according to Dr. Pizzorno. The primary mechanism appears to be damage to pancreatic beta cells, which results in lower levels of insulin available to the body. Furthermore, BPA directly causes insulin resistance by blocking the receptor sites used by cells to recognize and interact with insulin. ?This increases not only the incidence of diabetes, but also obesity, especially the worst type?accumulation of visceral fat,? he writes.
In fact, research has found the mechanism of insulin sensitivity to be the common denominator when it comes to POPs and diabetes. Nearly all of them impair insulin sensitivity to some degree.
His article discusses several ways clinicians can test for POP levels in a patient?s body, but he does offer some practical advice that anyone can use to help lower POP levels.
The first is avoidance, which he considers the best option. But, considering the degree to which these chemicals tend to accumulate in fat, as well as their pervasive nature in the environment, avoidance is not always an option (not to mention your current body burden). A second method is increasing intake of dietary fiber, which helps to bind toxins and facilitate their excretion from the body. Another effective strategy is increasing glutathione production. Glutathione supports the body?s ability to protect itself from oxidation, while at the same time mitigating inflammation. Both of these actions help to resolve blood sugar dysregulation. The limiting factor in glutathione production is the amino acid cysteine, which is found in whey protein and the supplement N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). Glutathione supplements are available, but there is some debate over whether that substance makes it through digestion intact.
There are also specific nutritional approaches that can be applied for removal of or protection from damage caused by specific chemicals. Some of these approaches are contained in the table accompanying this article.
The takeaway from Dr. Pizzorno?s work is that chronic, low-level toxic exposure is a problem for all of us and there is a tipping point at which this burden triggers disease?in this case, type 2 diabetes. Therefore, gentle, continuous, evidence-based detoxification practices and support for endogenous detoxification systems should be present in everyone?s health regimen.