The Role of PCB’s in Diabetes

The Role of PCB’s in Diabetes: Two recent studies indicate that PCB’s may account for some of the increase in diabetes. In order to understand how PCB’s can affect the human body we need to define them first. According to PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) are, “A group of toxic chemicals. These are used for industrial products such as fluorescent lights and electrical transformers. They are very poisonous. They are not easily biodegradable and can remain in our environment for hundreds of years.”

The use of PCB’s was banned in the 1970s. However, to understand the long-term effects of the chemicals we may benefit from a review of a disease that is entirely separate from diabetes – mesothelioma.

Asbestos was used in multiple industrial applications until it, too, was banned for use in new products in the 1970’s. Workers who handled and breathed the substance often developed lung ailments. Many have died from the lung cancer, mesothelioma. In the case of this disease it can take 20-50 years for the carcinogenic effects to be known following exposure. Again, this information is about mesothelioma, but it might help in understanding the long-term implications of PCB’s for diabetics.

According to a report from Diabetes Care Taiwanese researchers, “Compared the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes among 378 Taiwanese women who had been exposed to PCB-contaminated cooking oil in the 1970s with its occurrence among 370 non-exposed neighbors. They found that after 24 years, women who had been exposed to the contaminated oil had twice the risk of diabetes as non-exposed women. The women who had been exposed to the highest PCB levels had five times the diabetes risk.”

Interestingly the same study could find no direct correlation between PCB exposure and the incidence of diabetes in men. may provide an answer by saying, “PCBs are persistent organic pollutants, meaning that they accumulate in the body and resist breakdown by environmental factors. They have been known to accumulate in human blood, breast milk and body fat, and are known to damage the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive system. PCBs are also carcinogens and estrogen mimics.”

With the broad staying power of PCB’s in our environment this does pose a concern as expressed by a second report by researchers from SUNY Upstate Medical University. This research concentrated on residence in Alabama who live near an industrial area where PCB’s were dumped illegally in the 1970’s.

Blood tests were given and PCB levels were examined. What researchers learned was that these residents had levels that were four times higher than the national average. Correspondingly there was also a diabetes incidence 2-4 times that of the national average. This report also allowed the second research study to conclude that exposure to PCB’s could lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Researcher Allen Silverstone who said, “Diabetes is one thing that can happen and that probably happens because these chemicals can affect glucose metabolism”, summed up the reason this may be true.

Silverstone also added, “PCBs are indestructible. They stay in the cell and they keep the receptor turned on. So what you have is a problem when a switch is turned on that should be turned on and off, and that is what raises serious health problems because then the cells get deranged.”

Many health issues seem to have links to environmental causes. This is just one example of support for the idea that there may be additional external forces behind the epidemic rise in diabetes cases.