August 25, 2009

Another Cause of Diabetes? Weed Killer in Many Water Supplies Damages Mitochondria and Produces IR

An investigative journalist has learned that the EPA has failed to pass on to the public the information that drinking water in four states and more than 40 municipal water systems contains levels of atrazine, a commonly used herbicide, that violate federal safety standards.

Huffington Post: EPA Fails To Inform Public About Weed-Killer In Drinking Water

Why should you care? Because researchers have found "There is an apparent overlap between areas in the USA where the herbicide, atrazine (ATZ), is heavily used and obesity-prevalence maps of people with a BMI over 30."

Authors of a study that looked closely at this relationship explain,
Given that herbicides act on photosystem II of the thylakoid membrane of chloroplasts, which have a functional structure similar to mitochondria, we investigated whether chronic exposure to low concentrations of ATZ might cause obesity or insulin resistance by damaging mitochondrial function.
They conducted a rat experiment to see exactly what happened to mitochondria in mammals exposed to this herbicide. You can read the full study here:

Chronic Exposure to the Herbicide, Atrazine, Causes Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Insulin Resistance. Lim S, et al. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5186. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005186

This study found "Chronic administration of ATZ [atrazine] decreased basal metabolic rate, and increased body weight, intra-abdominal fat and insulin resistance without changing food intake or physical activity level".

The effect was worsened in rats fed a "high fat diet" (which we will look at more closely further on in this post.)

When the researchers looked at the mitochondria of the rats exposed to atrazine, they found
Mitochondria in skeletal muscle and liver of ATZ-treated rats were swollen with disrupted cristae. ATZ blocked the activities of oxidative phosphorylation complexes I and III, resulting in decreased oxygen consumption. It also suppressed the insulin-mediated phosphorylation of Akt [emphasis mine].

These results suggest that long-term exposure to the herbicide ATZ might contribute to the development of insulin resistance and obesity, particularly where a high-fat diet is prevalent.
The "high fat diet" fed the rats--which worsened the effect of this herbicide on obesity--is worth a look. This "high fat" diet was made up of
33.0% shortening, 7.0% corn oil, 10.0% sucrose, 13.2% dextrose, 5.0% cornstarch, 5.0% cellulose and 20.0% casein (by weight).
So it was in fact a high transfat and Omega 6 oil diet that was very rich in sugar. This is a very unhealthy diet quite apart from the fat percentage.

The HuffPost article reports that water customers in some Midwestern cities were sent reports of atrazine levels in their water that underreported actual levels by a factor of 10. According to the article:
based on the quarterly tests, residents of Mt. Olive, Ill., were told that the highest level of atrazine in their drinking water last year was 2 ppb. However, the EPA data shows a spike in June of 16.47 ppb. The same year, residents of McClure, Ohio, were told that the highest level of atrazine in their drinking water was 3.4 ppb. The EPA data shows a spike in June 2008 of more than ten times that amount -- 33.83 ppb.
The states where the highest levels have been reported are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas.

The EPA insists that atrazine poses no public health threat, though male frogs exposed to this herbicide have been known to produce eggs.

Perhaps, the levels of this herbicide might be safe, were they the only persistent organic pollutants (POPs) the public was exposed. But this chemical is only one of the POPs mixing in our blood streams. It joins detectable levels of bisphenol-a, the fertility-impairing organic fluorine compounds that leach from nonstick pans, the birth control pill hormones and pharmaceutical drugs that have leaked into public water supplies, and the pesticide residues that we get from the foods we import from all over the world.

These pollutants in our blood stream probably work synergistically. So the combined effect of all these chemicals may be far more destructive than that of each chemical in isolation.

Obviously, those who will show the strongest impacts from this exposure fall into two groups. The people with the greatest exposure: those who work with these chemicals or live in the most polluted neighborhoods, and those who have genes that already make them prone to insulin resistance and mitochondrial dysfunction. This latter group includes many people with family histories of Type 2 Diabetes.

We know that young, slim relatives of people with Type 2 diabetes often already have signs of mitochondrial dysfunction and higher than normal insulin resistance. (Details, HERE). When these people drink water that contains additional damaging factors like this herbicide they are likely to experience an escalation in insulin resistance,and as we know, as insulin resistance rises, so does post-meal blood sugar, hunger levels, and eventually, weight.

Read the HuffPost article, and if you live in one of the regions discuss, demand that your municipal authorities tell citizens the truth and let the EPA know that you do not want yourself or your children drinking water with detectable levels of a herbicide known to promote insulin resistance and obesity.

UPDATE: September 2, 2009: More insight on how the manufacturer of atrazine herbicide has used its influence to get the EPA to declare atrazine safe despite the evidence here:

HuffPost: Syngenta, Maker Of Weed-Killer Atrazine, Wants Lobbying Documents Excluded From Class-Action Lawsuit



Scott S said...

It's sad how our environment has such a profound impact on health which ultimately ends up influencing healthcare costs (via Medicare, Medicaid, not to mention private industry who shoulder's much of the cost -- the same industry they claim the regulations will harm), yet certain politicians view it as nothing more than a tree-hugger's cause. Diabetes is one of many diseases (can you say heart disease?) that our destruction of the environment has impacted, and those are only the one's research has actually investigated ....

ItsTheWooo said...

One thing I like about your blog, Jenny, is that you are willing to consider non-food origins of our obesity/diabetes epidemic. The rest of the low carb online blogosphere will ONLY consider food as a culprit, and IMO they are so narrow sighted it is pretty much ridiculous. Healthy people can metabolize normal food. Unhealthy people cannot metabolize fruit and potatoes, and this needs explaining. It is insufficient to blame junk food, because junky food precedes the obesity epidemic (sure, it increased dramatically circa 1970, but even prior to that people drank soda and ate candy and there wasn't an explosion of diabetes/obesity). Food is involved, but something else is allowing it to be so deadly. There are people all over the world who can eat potatoes and not have problems. Why do people like me, and you, get sick if we eat them in usual amounts?

Speaking personally, I can say that I've been filtering my water for the past year. In that past year I have noticed an improvement in all of my symptoms (hypoglycemia tendency, carb intolerance, and tendency toward depressive spates... from my previous post I consider depression one of my metabolic symptoms).
It could just be coincidence (I have done lots of other things in that year). It could be placebo, too. However I do think filtering my water is helping. I start feeling pretty bad if I drink too much tap water.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, spot who makes it

our old friends Novartis, now they aren't going to lie to you are they?

Seems it's little used in the UK but there may be a similar effect from other chemicals: I wonder whether something similar is what affects the toxicity of wheat