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Environmental Toxins Linked To Prediabetes

by Dr. Sarah Cimperman

Prediabetes is a worldwide epidemic. In the United States alone it affects seventy-nine million people, or one in three adults and nearly one in four adolescents. Prediabetes is characterized by high levels of blood sugar and insulin and it increases the risk of five of the seven leading causes death in the US: heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and type two diabetes. Fortunately, the condition is reversible and personal changes are the best prescription. A landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that changes in diet and lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes almost twice as much as the diabetes drug Glucophage (metformin) and that the benefits were still apparent a decade later. While diet and exercise changes are essential, there’s another piece to the puzzle. Now that research studies have linked toxic chemicals in the environment to an increased risk of developing diabetes, it’s time to recognize detoxification as an important part of permanently reversing prediabetes.

Environmental Toxin

Toxins are chemicals in the environment that are harmful to our health. Most of the time, we can’t see or smell or taste them, but toxins are very real and we’re exposed to them every day. These chemicals aren’t only in the environment; they’re already inside our bodies. Almost 500 different chemicals have been found in human blood and fat tissue and studies show that the older we get, the more toxins we contain.

Chemicals that increase risk of developing diabetes are called diabetogens. Since 1999 the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has measured chemicals in the blood and urine of people taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The most recent report found diabetogens in every single sample. That’s right: 100 percent of the 2,500 people studied tested positive for toxins that have been shown to increase the risk of diabetes.

These chemicals promote the development of diabetes through several different (and sometimes multiple) mechanisms. They may raise blood sugar levels or interfere with the ability of cells to use glucose in the blood. They may damage cells including those that produce insulin in the pancreas. They may act as endocrine disruptors, mimicking hormones made by our bodies, blocking hormone receptors, raising insulin levels, and promoting insulin resistance. Some can even influence the expression of genes that regulate metabolism, turning them on and off.

Diabetogens include dioxins, bisphenol A, phthalates, parabens, perfluorinated chemicals, brominated flame retardants, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and heavy metals. Whether we realize it or not, we come into contact with these chemicals every day and they can cause problems even in small doses well below acceptable levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dioxins like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are produced by a variety of industrial processes and once they’re released into the environment, they contaminate soil and waterways and accumulate in drinking water and food. The greatest source for most people is contaminated fish and seafood and the highest concentrations are found in large predators living at the top of the food chain.

Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are found in plastics. They’re used to make water bottles, baby bottles, pizza boxes, plastic wrap, epoxy linings inside food and beverage cans, and plastic and polystyrene (StyrofoamTM) cups, takeout containers, and egg cartons. These chemicals also have multiple industrial uses. Along with phthalates, parabens are found in personal products like shampoo, deodorant, and lotion. Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics and they are also used to make certain food additives and prescription drugs.

Perfluorinated chemicals make materials stain and stick resistant. They leach into our food from nonstick cookware and food packaging like pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, and fast food containers. They’re also found in fabric, furnishings, household cleaners, and personal care products.

Brominated flame retardants are added to furniture, electronic equipment, mattresses, and clothing. Because they don’t break down easily, they’ve become persistent and widespread in the environment.

Volatile organic compounds are chemicals used in manufacturing. They escape in the form of gases from building materials, office equipment, furnishings, household cleaners, and fragranced products like air fresheners and scented candles. According to the EPA, VOCs are up to ten times more concentrated in indoor air than in outdoor air.

Every year in the US we apply five billion pounds of pesticides to our crops. They soak into the soil where they’re taken up into plants through their root systems and distributed throughout, so we can’t just wash them off. Agricultural run-off that pollutes waterways causes pesticides to accumulate in drinking water and fish.

Heavy metals enter our diet primarily through drinking water, fish and seafood, and fruits and vegetables sprayed with herbicides or grown in contaminated soil. We can also be exposed to heavy metals from many other sources including antiseptics, dental amalgams, and cigarette smoke.


We’ll never be able to escape environmental toxins completely, but we can take steps to minimize our exposure and remove them from our bodies through detoxification. Most toxins are fat-soluble and stored inside fat cells, although heavy metals can also accumulate in bones and organs (primarily the kidneys, liver, intestines, and brain) where their half-lives are measured in decades. A comprehensive detox program should promote the release of toxins from their storage sites and support the liver in changing them into water-soluble compounds that the body can easily excrete. This can be accomplished with a diet low in sweets and starches, regular exercise, stress management, good sleep, sauna therapy, and supplements that deliver the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids needed for detoxification.

While detox is a good idea for most people, certain individuals should not undergo detoxification. These people include pregnant and breastfeeding women and individuals with any of the following: kidney disease, liver disease, cardiac arrhythmia, unexplained abdominal pain, inflammation of any part of the gastrointestinal tract, constipation (having less than one bowel movement per day), or recent surgery or chemotherapy. If you’re interested in detox, see your naturopathic doctor for an individualized protocol or learn more by reading The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings.

References are available upon request. Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City and author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. For more information about prediabetes and detoxification, visit www.prediabetesdetox.com. Follow Dr. Cimperman on Facebook, Twitter and her two blogs, A Different Kind of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet. Find her at www.drsarahcimperman.com.

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