August 3, 2007

Did Your Plastic Water Bottle Give You Diabetes?

Today's news carried a story about how 12 scientists have published a warning that a compound called bisphenol A, an estrogen mimic which is found in many plastics, has been conclusively linked with reproductive tract damage in many animals.

A chilling line from the report states "The scientists - including four from federal health agencies - reviewed about 700 studies before concluding that people are exposed to levels of the chemical exceeding those that harm lab animals. Infants and fetuses are most vulnerable, they said."

In addition the report explains, "The compound, bisphenol A or BPA, is one of the highest-volume chemicals in the world and has found its way into the bodies of most human beings.

"Used to make hard plastic, BPA can seep from beverage containers and other materials. It is used in all polycarbonate plastic baby bottles, as well as other rigid plastic items, including large water cooler containers, sports bottles and microwave oven dishes, along with canned food liners and some dental sealants for children."

Here is a link to the version of this story that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Scientists say plastic compound causes reproductive problems

What the article failed to mention is that several studies have also found that bisphenol A increases insulin resistance. For example, a study published in January 2006 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has a title that says it all:
"The Estrogenic Effect of Bisphenol A Disrupts Pancreatic β-Cell Function In Vivo and Induces Insulin Resistance".

Another article published in 2004 in The British Journal of Pharmacology, Bisphenol A affects glucose transport in mouse 3T3-F442A adipocytes concluded "it was demonstrated that BPA, one of the chemicals that we intake incidentally, affects the glucose transport in adipocytes [fat cells], and also that the environmental chemicals may be identified as one of the environmental factors that affect diabetes and obesity."

There are more studies out there along the same lines. What they have in common is that they were published in journals that don't get a lot of attention from the press and that no drug company or agribusiness powerhouse benefits from promoting these results to the media so these findings did not get the PR push that would get them into the news.

But if you have a weight problem linked to insulin resistance, they should get you thinking.

I have long believed that the so-called "obesity epidemic," though very real, is unlikely to have been caused by its victims' sloth and gluttony, because there is so much good research that shows that normal animals and for that matter, humans, cannot be made to gain and retain large amounts of weight even with overfeeding. Something needs to disrupt the normal regulatory systems of the metabolism for that to happen. And clearly something HAS disrupted them in a growing number of people.

Especially troubling is the finding that huge numbers of young children are experiencing dramatic obesity and developing type 2 diabetes when they are so young that it is not metabolically possible that their diabetes was caused by their obesity! It takes far more than a decade for an overweight adult to develop diabetes related to their obesity, yet children too young for elementary school are developing insulin resistance-related diabetes.

The finding that Bisphenol A has its most powerful effect on infants and small children, and that babies are sucking down formula from bottles that shed this toxic molecule, lying in cribs made of it, playing with toys full of it and may even have it applied to their teeth makes it very possible that bisphenol A is causing the insulin resistance which turns into both childhood obesity and childhood Type 2 diabetes.

The response to the scientists' warning was predictable: those with a financial stake in these plastics rush to assure us they are safe.

But some of us are old enough to realize that the plastics that surround us are a relatively new substances that only invaded our environment in the late 1950s and this makes us wonder if the growth in obesity and Type 2 diabetes might not track to the growing pervasiveness of these plastics and their toxic chemical in our environment and bodies.

Back when I was little in the early 1950s kids' toys were made of tin and thin sheet metal where they now are universally made of the hard plastics filled with Bisphenol A. Food tins were not lined in the chemical as they are now. Other food items were wrapped in cellophane--a cellulose product--not plastic wrap. Our metal lunch box held sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Our refrigerated water was stored in glass container. Our soda bottles were glass, too. And needless to say, we didn't sit at plastic keyboards in front of plastic monitors and push plastic mice around all afternoon after school!

And though my friends and I routinely scarfed down candy bars and fudge sundaes on our way home from school and ate lard-crusted pies with whipped cream topping and heaps of mashed potatoes each day at lunch, we were not fat. In fact, fatness in anyone young was unusual and if we asked about it our parents would sagely murmur something about them having "bad glands."

Now parents are more likely to explain that fat kids are lazy and their parents are gluttons It's become a huge part of our culture to blame people for their weight problems. The media echo this attitude, too. And it keeps people from asking the hard questions about what has changed to make obesity so common and to question whether environmental pollutants like those coming off the plastics that surround us that may really be the cause of this tragic epidemic of industrial poisoning.


Anonymous said...

Huh. Since I have both IR and PCOS, this really does make me think.

I've always blamed it on HFCS - I didn't have these problems until I began eating so-called "healthy" low-fat, HFCS-laden products in the 1990s, which we now know are basically poison. But that is about the same time that I started toting the plastic water bottle everywhere. Perhaps both are to blame.

Scott S said...

This is an important finding, but I suspect that it does not end there. There are so many toxins in our environment and not all of them are necessarily visible. These things get buried in landfills which creep into the aquifer and thus our water. To be sure, the environment was not as clean as you and I remember it when we were growing up, as there were also toxins then, too. Perhaps what has changed is the way we surround ourselves with these things today ... even the keyboard example you note has relevance? Just surmising.

Unknown said...

What real choice do I have? The chemically contaminated stuff coming from the tap, (according to the health warning that comes in the bill?)

Jonah said...

Right on.

Anonymous said...

I have always drank lots of water as a result of having Sjogren's syndrome. I soon began realizing that tap water would make me sick at times. So I switched to bottled water...I have celiac disease which means I truly do not consume many carbohydrates to begin with. I also have no family history of diabetes...and, yes, it is type II...When I started drinking bottled water I started getting it in glass jugs, because I was aware of plastics being harmful. But my life and my diet are just so expensive, I just couldn't afford it and I began drinking water in plastic bottles. Now I have a bigger problem I can't afford--diabetes...

Jenny said...

Studies published in fall of 2008 have found that the water in bottled water bottles is either identical to tap water or contains more cholorine chemicals linked to cancer.

To say nothing of costing a fortune.

Buy yourself a filter that goes on your kitchen tap and drink that much cheaper tap water. It's better for you than the bottled stuff and 1000 times cheaper.