Is the environment making us diabetic?

I am taking an environmental health class (SPH262 for those UC Davis folk reading).  It’s pretty interesting, but what I am finding most interesting is the interface between the nutrition and the environment. It’s kind of a new realm of discovery for me.   Think back: 100 years ago (yeah, I know YOU weren’t alive, but you can ponder human existence), environmental toxins were likely slim: maybe too much smoke because of long hours cooking over a wood-burning stove, or the reside from coal burning.  But let’s face it: the air was cleaner, and the food was cleaner too (at least from toxins).  However, of recent, with the huge surge in obesity and related diseases, scientists are hot on the trail for cause(s).

Environment and weight have been linked for a while, but mostly in the sense of our environment being “Obeseogenic” – meaning that it promotes a sedentary lifestyle, is infiltrated with junk food, and we are bombarded with messages to EAT! EAT! EAT!  But I haven’t really looked into how toxins might play a role in weight issues or diseases that relate until I read this article.

Now, before I go into sharing what I’ve read, a few caveats:  First, the research I’m reading is in animal studies.  Yes, there are similarities with people, but let’s not assume a lab rat mimics a human exactly.  Also, there are A LOT of factors that contribute to insulin resistance (which can result in diabetes, among other things).  Diet, fitness level, muscle mass, stress level and genetics also play a role.  Ultimately I believe it’s all of our responsibility to manage our own self-care to limit the influence of environmental factors in disease and obesity.

Okay, now the punchline: According to a 2010 study in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 118/Volume 4 (a reputable journal full of lots of science jargon), lab rats exposed to human levels of Persistant  Organic Pollutants (POPS), developed insulin resistance compared with the unexposed (no POP) rats.  The take-home is that we may want to think about the toxicants we ingest as a contributor to our diet.  POPS are found in pesticides, among other places.

My suggestion is to do two things:

1. DON’T panic- this isn’t definitive research – more work needs to be done.

2. BE PROACTIVE AND SHOP CONSCIOUSLY:  eat more local, pesticide free foods and consider alternatives to pesticides when you are tending to your own yards, etc.  POPS are also ambient, especially in the San Joaquin Valley of CA, so I saw we all take regular breaks to the Mountains and the Ocean to get away from stifling valley air.  IF you live in Oregon (my home away from this home…) – LUCKY!!!!!  Clean air and lots of awareness about environmental pollutants.

Now it makes me wonder whether or not POPS contribute to food cravings…hmm……