Triggers of Diabetes Type 2- What is the Role of Environmental Toxins?

Triggers of Diabetes Type 2- What is the Role of Environmental Toxins?

Everyone knows that a sedentary lifestyle together with a poor diet can lead to the development of diabetes type 2. But what is not sufficiently discussed is how a large number of people are handling this condition for other and rather lesser-known reasons which may get out of their control.

Have you ever considered diabetes type 2 as an environmental condition? During our entire life, you are exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals on a daily basis. From vehicle exhaust to BPA present in canned goods, these substances have a tendency to disrupt your metabolic system.

It may seem difficult to comprehend initially, but think about how every chemical present around you tends to alter our hormonal function and balance.

As per a cost analysis report 2016, diseases associated with household chemicals make up for $340 billion of the U.S. budget. This means that 2.33 percent of its gross domestic product is related to these disorders. The economic burden caused by such diseases is alarmingly high in the U.S as compared to other counters, mainly because of differences in the chemical regulations.

So, how does this connect with diabetes? We may assume that there is something not right with the environmental regulation and because of it, we might be exposing our body to some extremely dangerous diabetes triggers.

RELATED: An unknown correlation between Vitamin A and Diabetes is revealed

Type 2 Diabetes Triggers: It’s More than Exercise and Food!

There is no doubt that a poor diet coupled with a lack of exercise can lead to diabetes. However, recent advances in science have suggested other reasons as well. The International Federation of Diabetes has reported that the global prevalence of diabetes type 2 recorded to be 414 million in the year 2015 will rise up to 642 million by the year 2040.

This could be interpreted in a way that mere a diabetic diet or regular workout might not be able to work for every individual when it comes to controlling diabetes. Scientists have been struggling to isolate other triggers of diabetes with a special focus on the environmental toxins.


Triggers of Diabetes

Some studies have successfully linked diabetes type 2 with certain environmental exposures. A “developmental obesogen” hypothesis has been constructed which indicates that exposure to certain chemicals can raise the risk of obesity by changing the neural circuit development which primarily controls you feeding behavior.

The conventional risk factors leading to diabetes such as insufficient exercise, obesity, family history, and old age have failed to explain the continuous rise in diabetes prevalence. Certain heavy metals and chemicals found in the environment and pollute can be playing a role in the amplification of this epidemic.

Some Unexpected Diabetes Triggers


Research has indicated that exposing the body to arsenic for a long duration of time can alter the insulin secretion, significantly increasing the risk of diabetes type 2. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology concluded that consumption of water contaminated with arsenic by over 100 million people globally has been linked to insulin resistance and an increased prevalence of diabetes.

RELATED: Consuming Rice Can Cause Arsenic Poisoning – Research shows

Arsenic is present in air, water, oil, and food. Unfortunately, it is not possible to completely avoid it as it also occurs naturally in the environment. There is currently no limit set by the USFDA on the amount of arsenic in commonly used foods such as chicken, rice, protein powder, and apple juice.

Triggers of Diabetes

Appropriate measures are required on a larger scale to reduce the amounts of arsenic in food and environment



Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are also a form of synthetic chemicals used in hundreds of commercial applications. These compounds are so toxic that a ban was placed on their utilization in the U.S. since 1979.

Research has suggested that the PCBs can remain in your body much longer after the initial exposure.

Before being banned, PCBs were commonly used to make floor finish, plastics, oil-based paint, caulking, electrical devices, and thermal insulation.

PCBs can also pollute the environment as they are majorly produced by burning of waste, transformer leaks, and poorly-managed landfills. Sometimes, these compounds are found accumulated in fish and other small organisms that we consume as a part of our diet.

The role of PCB in precipitating diabetes has been studied in detail. It has been found that these compounds can impair insulin and glucose tolerance. These effects can stay in the body for up to two weeks. PCBs can also increase the number of inflammatory cytokines and cause insulin resistance.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs, are a group of chemicals that naturally occur in crude oil, gasoline, and coal. They are released into the environment when oil, coal, gas, garbage, and tobacco are combusted.

According to a report published by the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, PAH was found to be the most prevalent toxin in 2500 participants. This proves the widespread exposure to chemicals within the U.S.

A study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2014 examined the participants for their urinary levels of PAH from 2001 to 2006. The study concluded that those with high levels of PAH in their urines were found to have a link with diabetes type 2. The results were not dependent on other potential risk factors such as race, gender, BMI, or smoking.

What are the two basic sources of PAH? In the U.S., these sources include consuming PAHs via food or via cigarette smoke inhalation.

Triggers of Diabetes

Cooking food, especially meat at high temperatures can significantly increase the level of PAHs. Therefore, it is important that you precook the meat before grilling it in order to reduce its PAHs content.


Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a synthetic compound which is commonly used in the production of toys, canned foods, drink liners, medical devices, and certain types of plastics.

BPA has been found to have an association with a number of diseases, primarily because of its diabetogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects.

A research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that the exposure of BPA is linked to the risk of diabetes type 2. BPA has a potential to act on the pancreatic cells and alter the normal glucagon and insulin secretion. This eventually causes a person to develop insulin resistance.

Data has also shown that the levels of BPA are the greatest in formula-fed infants with the help of polycarbonate bottles. BPA, in the amount of 5 micrograms per kilogram of the body, is considered to be highly toxic to humans.

It is important to mention here that a lot of products with a BPA-free label are not actually free of this toxic compound. You must use glass containers and stainless steel of the highest quality whenever possible to reduce the exposure to BPA.


Phthalates are commonly used in plasticizers as they can maximize the flexibility, durability, and the transparency of the products. The presence of these compounds in the urine of different people has been linked to the development of diabetes type 2, according to an Australian study.

Phthalates are present in different consumer and industrial products, some of which may even have alarmingly high levels. They might be present in your household cleaning products, cosmetics, and medical care products.

Triggers of Diabetes

To avoid phthalates exposure, prefer natural cleaning products and avoid foods that are wrapped in plastic.

Science is constantly backing up the environmental triggers of diabetes type 2. In addition to the triggers mentioned above, other environmental substances that may increase the risk of diabetes include:

  • Nickel
  • Cadmium
  • Pesticides
  • Mercury

Be sure to minimize your exposure to these compounds as much as you can. Remember that your health is in your own hands!

Nancy Walker

Nancy holds a Medicine degree and a Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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