02 April 2016

Environmental Watchdog Draws Attention to the Linkage between Chemical Exposures and Diabetes

A watchdog group on chemicals and wastes has called attention to the need to prevent and reduce exposures to hazardous substances as a way to beat the rise of diabetes in the Philippines.

The EcoWaste Coalition issued the statement as the World Health Day is observed on April 7 under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO) with “Beat Diabetes” as the theme for this year’s advocacy.  Based on WHO’s projection, diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.


According to the International Diabetes Federation,  the Philippines is one of the world’s emerging diabetes hotspots ranking 15th for diabetes prevalence with over four million Filipinos diagnosed with the disease “and a worryingly large unknown number who are unaware they have diabetes.”

“In addition to excessive weight, poor diet and lack of physical activities, environmental chemicals may be contributing to the increasing incidence of diabetes in the country,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Human exposure to toxic chemicals in air, water, food and product as well as in waste may be increasing the risk of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, as scientific evidence from other countries would show,” he said.

Along with lifestyle changes such as maintaining normal body weight, healthy diet and regular exercise, the EcoWaste Coalition believed that effectively curbing the sources of exposure to hazardous chemicals will be a vital step to beat diabetes, a generally preventable disease.

Some of the toxic chemical compounds associated with the development of diabetes include nicotine, pesticides  and persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins,  dichloro-diphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The EcoWaste Coalition cited the conclusion of a workshop organized by the US National Toxicology Program in 2011 on the “Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity,” which found that  “overall, the existing literature was judged to provide plausibility, varying from suggestive to strong, that exposure to environmental chemicals may contribute to the epidemic of diabetes and/or obesity.”

“There was also support for the ‘developmental obesogen’ hypothesis, which suggests that chemical exposures may increase the risk of obesity by altering the differentiation of adipocytes or the development of neural circuits that regulate feeding behaviour,” the workshop report said. 

“The effects may be most apparent when the developmental exposure is combined with consumption of a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, or high-fat diet later in life,” it further said.

The workshop likewise concluded  that “research on environmental chemical exposures and type 1 diabetes was very limited. This lack of research was considered a critical data gap.”

“Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces,” the WHO said.


“Insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, gives us the energy that we need to live. If it cannot get into the cells to be burned as energy, sugar builds up to harmful levels in the blood,” it added.

There are two main types of diabetes.

As explained by WHO, people with type 1 diabetes typically make none of their own insulin and therefore require insulin injections to survive, and people with type 2 diabetes, the form that comprises some 90% of cases, usually produce their own insulin, but not enough or they are unable to use it properly. 

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