Poor diet and lack of exercise are known to be major factors in causing the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes spreading around the developed world. But it’s not just Type 2, or lifestyle-induced, maturity onset diabetes that is rising dramatically. Type 1, or Juvenile Onset diabetes is also on the rise. In the past two decades Type 1 diabetes now ranks as the most common chronic childhood disease in developed countries. It usually occurs in people under the age of 30 years, and can strike without warning. It is thought to be caused by an autoimmune process that destroys the insulin-producing or islet-beta cells in the pancreas, one of the endocrine glands in the body. In New South Wales, Australia, between 1985 and 2002, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes  doubled in children under five years, leading researchers to conclude this rise of Type 1 diabetes is due to “a major environmental effect.”

Type 1 diabetes cannot be attributed to diet and lifestyle factors, but along with Type 2 diabetes, its incidence is rising at an alarming rate. The reason for this rise is as yet unknown, but one must ask the question of why the incidence of an autoimmune disease like this is rising so rapidly.

Researchers have implicated a possible culprit in the rise of the disease in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives 114:106–112]. 

A team of Spanish and Mexican researchers reports discovering that the endocrine-disrupting chemical found in plastics used for food storage ‘Bisphenol A’ (BPA) causes insulin resistance in mice similar to that seen just before the onset of type 2 diabetes.*

Scientists have known for years that BPA and other endocrine disruptors can diminish sperm production, accelerate the onset of puberty, and damage sexual organs. Even though it is known that BPA can mimic oestrogen and cause insulin resistance, they had not studied a link between the chemicals and glucose metabolism.

Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, is extremely widespread in our environment. Since the 1950s, it has been used in plastics for water bottles and jugs, baby bottles, toys, and the linings of food and beverage cans. Consumers continually ingest BPA that leaches from containers into foods and drinks. Studies in the United States showed that BPA appeared in the blood and urine of 95% of people tested.

The researchers tested BPA’s effect on glucose regulation by measuring glucose and insulin levels in adult male mice treated with BPA injections. The researchers see the newly discovered link between BPA and insulin resistance as one more reason the agency should at least consider lowering the ‘safe’ levels of BPA in the food chain.

Cause for alarm?

While the cause for this remains unknown, environmental factors need to be examined at least in equal part to dietary and lifestyle factors. It takes a long time to scientifically verify causes and links to disease. Until that time, it may be possible for families to minimise one harmful exposure.

How to avoid BPA:

  • Make sure that the plastic you are using is BPA free. Many plastics are now marked as ‘BPA’ free.
  • Avoid all plastics marked with the numbers 3, 7, or no number at all.
  • Replace plastic containers with glass or ceramic ones.
  • Get the kids a stainless steel drink bottle.
  • Avoid cling wrap.
  • Keep plastics away from all for hot or oily food.
  • Use ceramic dishes and covers in the microwave.
  • Avoid tinned food in cans with white plastic lining – especially tomatoes. Buy glass containers instead.
  • Give babies wooden toys to play with.
  • Eat minimal processed food, which is invariably stored in plastic containers.

A few simple measures like this could make a big difference to the amount of synthetic, environmental oestrogens that you, your children and grandchildren are exposed to.

*REF: Exploring the Roots of Diabetes: Bisphenol A May Promote Insulin Resistance http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332664/