Arsenic Exposure Could Be Causing Diabetes–And It’s Hiding In Unexpected Places

We’re all exposed to arsenic. It’s unavoidable. We take in small amounts through the air, our water, and our food.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in the Earth’s crust. It’s usually found in the environment combined with other elements. When arsenic is combined with carbon and hydrogen it’s called organic arsenic. When it’s combined with oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur it’s called inorganic arsenic.

Inorganic arsenic is, as you might imagine, more dangerous to humans. Inorganic arsenic is found in different types of soil and rock, and finds its way into water and air through human processes such as smelting and pesticide use.

Photo: pixabay/wuzefe
Photo: pixabay/wuzefe

Does arsenic exposure cause diabetes?

Unfortunately, an easy yes or no answer was hard to discern from the available reviews and research. There is significant evidence that high levels of arsenic in the drinking water in parts of Taiwan and Bangladesh are linked to diabetes. And multiple studies have confirmed the link between arsenic exposure and the development of diabetes worldwide, but a link between diabetes and low to moderate levels of arsenic is not yet clear.

Arsenic is thought to cause diabetes by impairing insulin creation or by impairing insulin sensitivity. Some studies have found a correlation between moderate arsenic exposures and diabetes prevalence in certain populations in the United States, though it’s not yet clear what conclusions can be drawn from those correlations.

Photo: AdobeStock/jarun011
Photo: AdobeStock/jarun011

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A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives concluded, “Existing human data provide limited to sufficient support for an association between arsenic and diabetes in populations with relatively high exposure levels… The evidence is insufficient to conclude that arsenic is associated with diabetes in lower exposure… although recent studies with better measures of outcome and exposure support an association.”

The jury may still be officially out for those with low exposure to arsenic, but since some studies suggest a dose-dependent relationship between arsenic and diabetes, it’s certainly not too early to take steps to reduce exposure.

Photo: AdobeStock/Darren Baker
Photo: AdobeStock/Darren Baker

How might I be exposed to arsenic?

In the United States, the most common ways to be exposed to arsenic are:

  • Through drinking water, especially if you live in an area where there are high levels of arsenic in the rock.
  • If you live near a hazardous waste site. Some of these sites contact large amounts of arsenic, and if not properly taken care of, it can end up in the water, air, and ground.
  • If you work at a job that uses arsenic, such as smelting or pesticide application.
  • If you work with or burn wood treated with copper chromatic arsenate (CCA), a preservative made with arsenic. (Wood used for industrial purposes is treated with CCA. Wood for residential purposes is no longer treated with CCA as of 2003, though structures built before 2003 may contain CCA).
  • If you live where arsenic was used in agriculture there could be high levels of arsenic in the soil. Arsenic has now been banned in many, but not all, pesticides.
  • If you eat foods that have been contaminated by arsenic, including many rice products. (Certain cooking methods claim to reduce arsenic amounts in rice.)
Photo: AdobeStock/annavaczi
Photo: AdobeStock/annavaczi

“NEXT” for how to reduce your arsenic exposure

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