Toxins and Type 2

In one of our first Diabetes Flashpoints posts more than two years ago, we published an interview that explored the link between toxins and autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes. That interview promoted a straightforward theory with widespread scientific acceptance: Toxins and other triggers can overload the immune system, leading it to make mistakes in the form of an autoimmune disease, when it attacks the body’s own healthy cells. Yet as the interview also noted, a growing body of evidence is linking toxins with Type 2 diabetes.


To explore this connection, the National Toxicology Program — a US government agency — convened a committee to evaluate existing studies on diabetes and various chemicals, including those found in pesticides, plastics, and cigarette smoke. The committee led a workshop January 11-13 in Raleigh, North Carolina, in which scientists discussed their findings. According to a Reuters article on the workshop, the scientists concluded that in many cases, a strong connection exists between chemicals and Type 2 diabetes as well as obesity. One of the strongest connections, they found, was between maternal smoking during pregnancy and the child’s risk later on of developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Counterintuitively, in these cases low birth weight often indicates a later tendency toward obesity and diabetes. Other chemicals explored by the committee include the plastic BPA, used in some drinking bottles but increasingly out of favor; arsenic and other metals; and organic pesticides and related chemicals, which are widely used in conventional (nonorganic) agriculture.

Yet while the scientists conclude that there is strong biological evidence of connections to diabetes from these chemicals, they cannot estimate how many people are affected as a result. Many studies reviewed as part of the workshop involved measuring the responses of chemical exposure in animals. Since no study intentionally exposing humans to toxins could ever be approved, it is not fully known how exposure in humans translates into clinical outcomes. Furthermore, it is often very difficult to measure chemical exposure in the real world, which would be necessary to conclude how much blame chemicals deserve for current rates of obesity and diabetes.

Do you suspect that toxins played a role in the development of your diabetes? Have you taken steps to minimize your exposure to certain chemicals? How should government agencies decide how to regulate potentially harmful chemicals when their full effect on human health is unknown? Leave a comment below!

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • calgarydiabetic

    Chemicals are a smoking gun. It is difficult to form an opinion since the causes of diabetes are unknown except for the autoimmune type. The present official theory that obesity causes type 2 is suspect. It may well be the other way around. My wife with a BMI of less 25 is in the process of developing D. She eats low carb and exercises. She was exposed to a myriad of chemicals at work. Again purely circumstantial.

    This may be a bigger threat to Americans by far than airport security.

    It is difficult to see how conclusive data can be obtained even if testing on humans was allowed. A multitude of chemicals have been released into our environment since WW1 and may have synergistic effects.

  • Linda Groetzinger, Phd

    Great to see this subject made more available!
    We do try to keep up with recommendations to avoid toxins, but sometimes it feels like one would have to live on another planet to be truly “safe”. (At least from those on earth.)
    Yes, we have diabetes in our family. Obesity is less.
    Yes, in the 1940s, many of our parents smoked during pregnancy.
    Yes, when you tell me that there is strong evidence linking plastic bottles to human potentially absorbing of toxins, I try to avoid plastic bottles.
    Do I have hope that the government can or will set limits and guidelines, in the absence of irrefutable proof ? not much.
    But public health studies to move towards ever more convincing evidence is an option; not all proof has to be with the kind of trials mentioned in the article. One can do population studies, compare situations in different countries or communities; look at data for groups from different eras. For example, the inundation with plastics is pretty recent.

  • Sarah Howard

    I’m also glad to see this topic discussed. I attended this workshop, and there is quite good evidence already that some contaminants may contribute to diabetes. Most of the studies so far are focused on type 2, but there are some on type 1, and even one or two on gestational diabetes.

    Thus far there are animal studies showing that various chemicals can contribute to insulin resistance, weight gain, and blood glucose abnormalities in animals. There are also associations found in studies of humans, where levels of contaminants are associated with diabetes, insulin resistance, weight gain, etc. We need more studies that follow people and track exposures over time– but there are a few already, showing that contaminants may contribute to the disease and not vice versa (ie diabetes doesn’t affect contaminant levels in the body).

    Proving anything in science is difficult, which is why many people advocate using a precautionary approach to chemicals. The FDA approves drugs before they are used in humans; why shouldn’t we have a similar system of extensive testing before using chemicals? That would be feasible right now, but our current laws do not require it.

    I’ve summarized many of these studies on my website:, FYI.

  • Donna Ashmore

    The FDA doesn’t test the drugs. The drug companies do. The FDA just takes the word of
    the company to put a drug on the market.
    I believe drugs could also be the culprit. 80% of the ingredients come from foriegn countries, and a great % of the prescription drugs are manufactured in Puerto Rico. Do we hear the reports of these companies being fined? Not much. But, watch the ads on TV. It will be an
    eye opener.

  • amytn

    I am diabetic due to a perferated ulcer surgery in which my pancreas was nicked. Ended up having pancreatitis for a time and hepititis from a large amount of blooded transfusions and am lucky I did not end up with HIV which was just coming to light at this time. I was told at the time I was very lucky not to be diabetic and could become
    diabetic at any time. I was healthy thankfully for twenty years when I had gained much weight and was tired and hungry(out of control). During
    a health screening at work, my blood sugar was flagged at 111(at that time the cutoff was 110. Went to my gp and he confirmed I was diabetic. Being overweight at midage is hereditary in my family. A couple of doctors(one endrocronologist and a neurologist) have explained to me
    that because your body cannot process sugar it changes the sugar to fat. Because my family is active with diet and exercise one doctor suggested my family is insulin resistance. Also that the diabetic medications cause weight gain.
    It sounds to me that diabetes can cause weight gain in its own right and then the weight gaining meds are added which cause weight gain? Don’t know about the plastics, pesticides, etc.

  • Noah Berkowitz

    Thanks for sharing this valuable info!