Few people would dispute that the root cause of diabetes often is a high-calorie diet that's loaded with simple sugars but deficient in fiber, combined with a lack of exercise. Yet it is increasingly clear that in a world full of man-made chemicals, environmental toxins are contributing to the growing epidemic of diabetes.

How so? Certain toxic chemicals can…

  • Destroy the beta cells of the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels.
  • Interfere with the activity of cell receptors that bring glucose to muscle and fat cells.
  • Exert an estrogen-like effect that further impairs the cell receptors' ability to use insulin.

Need-To-Know Facts About Diabetes

Insulin is required to transport glucose into our cells for energy production. A deficiency of insulin is the main cause of type 1 diabetes. Of the 20.8 million Americans with diabetes, 5% to 10% have type 1.

Far more common in the US is type 2 diabetes, in which the body's cells ignore insulin, allowing excess amounts of this hormone to build up in the blood. As cells become less effective at accepting and using insulin, blood glucose levels rise. Often, this causes the pancreas to pump out even more insulin.

The dangers: Excess glucose can damage kidneys, nerves and eyes...and excess insulin promotes harmful widespread inflammation and boosts cholesterol production, raising cardiovascular disease risk.

An additional 54 million Americans have the prediabetic condition insulin resistance in which cells do not properly use the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar). Insulin resistance is the root of a common health problem called syndrome X or metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by elevated insulin and glucose levels...elevated blood fats (particularly cholesterol and triglycerides)...high blood pressure... overall weight gain...and body fat accumulation around the waist. Insulin resistance frequently leads to type 2 diabetes.

The Case Against Toxins

How many types of toxins are found in the modern-day human body? No one knows There may be as many as 75,000 man-made chemicals in the environment, so it's reasonable to estimate that several hundred and possibly many more are lodged within us. Since toxins are stored primarily in fatty tissue, being overweight may increase one's toxicity risk.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researches chemical accumulation in Americans (as measured in blood and urine samples and publishes its findings biannually in its National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. The most recent report includes data on 148 chemicals-from toxic metals (such as mercury, lead, barium and uranium) to pesticides to cigarette smoke-found in air, water, food, soil, dust and consumer products.

The CDC says that cadmium (a by-product of cigarette smoke) was detected at alarming levels in 5% of adult Americans—probably due in part to secondhand smoke. Cadmium can cause kidney damage to which people with diabetes are vulnerable) and weaken bones. Most of the subjects also had many pesticides in their bodies. Pesticides disrupt the cells' ability to accept glucose.

Other studies show that military veterans who were exposed to dioxin-a toxic chemical produced during manufacturing processes-have an increased incidence of diabetes. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has added type 2 diabetes to its list of diseases associated with exposure to the dioxin-containing herbicide Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War.

A 2006 study in the journal Epidemiology showed that women with high blood levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) had a greater risk of diabetes. PCBs are man-made chemicals used as coolants and lubricants. Production in the US halted in 1977, but PCBs break down slowly.

Another recent study involving more than 2,000 Americans published in Diabetes Care found a striking association between diabetes and blood levels of six persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including PCBs and various pesticides. These pollutants were found in about 80% of the people tested.

If you are concerned about known or unknown exposure to pesticides, dioxin or other toxic chemicals, talk to your doctor about getting blood and/or urine tests to measure the levels of toxins in your body.

Pollutant Self-Protection

Take steps to minimize buildup of the harmful toxins that can lead to diabetes and other health problems. (Supplements below are sold at health food stores, generally are safe and can be taken indefinitely.) General recommendations for adults…

  • Eat organic plant foods, which are grown without harmful pesticides.
  • Select organic poultry and eggs labeled "free range" (meaning that the animals were not constantly caged and were not fed antibiotics or hormones).
  • Get more fiber from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Fiber promotes proper digestive function, so toxins can be eliminated via urine and stool. Fiber also binds with toxins, preventing them from circulating through the body.
  • Drink fresh vegetable juice daily. Beets, celery, parsley, carrots and burdock root all can be juiced and supply nutrients that help the body to detoxify.
  • Supplement daily with a green-food formula that includes chlorella, spirulina and wheatgrass. This supports liver and kidney detoxification by binding to toxic metals, which then can be excreted.

Try: Greens+ from Orange Peel Enterprises (800-643-1210, www.greensplus.com).

  • Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to support liver function.
  • Take milk thistle extract daily to aid liver and kidney detoxification.

A good brand: Nature's Way Thisilyn (800962-8873, www.naturesway.com).

  • Also, take a daily probiotic supplement containing beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium, to detoxify the digestive tract.
  • Exercise. Sweating releases toxins stored in fat.
  • Consider a series of four weekly colonics each year (a holistic doctor can provide a referral). This infusion of water into the rectum flushes out waste from the lower end of the colon for more complete elimination than bowel movements provide.
  • Take a sauna weekly to clear toxins from cells.
  • Purify water at home by installing a reverse osmosis filtering system on each tap...a chlorine-removal filter on your showerhead... and a charcoal filter on your main waterline.

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