White Pigment And Your Pancreas: Why This Compound Could Be Linked To Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you know that doctors and researchers don’t yet fully understand the causes of type 1 or type 2. But that doesn’t stop them from making guesses and running experiments. From arsenic exposure to adverse food environments, there is no shortage of theories as to what may play a role in the development of diabetes.

So perhaps it won’t surprise you that a team of researchers at the University of Texas found a link between titanium dioxide, the white pigment that we’re exposed to on a regular basis, and type 2 diabetes.

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

What is titanium dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is used as a white pigment in indoor paint, beverages, food, cosmetics, medication, plastics, and even toothpaste. The compound replaced toxic lead-based white pigment and has become increasingly common in the last 50 years. We are regularly exposed to titanium dioxide crystals, both in our air and in our food. Studies have shown that after being inhaled or ingested these crystals enter the bloodstream and, according to the authors of the University of Texas study, cause inflammation and the death of nearby cells.

Ingested micron-sized crystals (similar to titanium dioxide crystals) have been associated with chronic diseases before. Some lung diseases have been linked to inhaling crystalline silica and asbestos, for example. Other crystalline compounds are associated with chronic diseases of the joints, kidneys, and urinary tract.

Photo: AdobeStock/guerrieroale
Photo: AdobeStock/guerrieroale

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The Study

Given that crystalline compounds are linked with other inflammatory diseases, researchers wondered if titanium dioxide might play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. They took 11 pancreas samples, three from people without diabetes, and eight from people with type 2. Using an electron microscope, researchers scanned the samples for the presence of titanium dioxide crystals.

The Results

The team found that titanium dioxide crystals “abound” in the pancreas samples of those with type 2 diabetes, but were absent in the non-diabetic samples. The report notes that each crystal detected in a pancreas sample represents 0.16 billion crystals per gram of pancreas. In the pancreas samples from people with diabetes, researchers detected between 0.2 and 2.9 crystals. No titanium dioxide crystals were found in the samples from people without diabetes.

Photo: AdobeStock/magicmine
Photo: AdobeStock/magicmine

So now what?

Should we stop using white paint, eating white chocolate, and using toothpaste? Not exactly. The study concludes that the findings raise the possibility of a link between the increasing use of titanium dioxide pigment and the rising number of people with type 2 diabetes. So a possibility exists, but a study with only 11 samples is much too small to draw reliable conclusions. It would require a much larger sample size as well as a blinded study to be able to establish a definite link. Even then, researchers would still need to know how titanium dioxide ingestion affects insulin sensitivity and production.

Photo: AdobeStock/pixdesign123
Photo: AdobeStock/pixdesign123

The danger of reporting on these interesting-but-small studies is that someone may get understandably frustrated by the variety of research but lack of reliable conclusions. We do hope that these studies will someday lead to usable information. In the meantime, we recommend to keep relying on the tried-and-true diabetes management methods recommended by your doctor, and please don’t stop using toothpaste just yet.

Stay hopeful, friends!

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