11/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Diabetes and Endocrine Disruption: Connecting the Dots

I consider myself fairly well-read, and educated about health. I've researched the endocrine disruption effects of chemicals--that is, the ways that certain chemicals interfere with the production function of various hormones in our bodies. So I was shocked and surprised last week when I had an endocrine disruptor epiphany in the burn center at the hospital.

Neither diabetes nor endocrine disruption were top of mind for me that day. I was at the burn center because my beautiful and rambunctious 3-year-old, in her eagerness to eat my homemade chicken noodle soup (it was steaming-hot, in a small bowl on the kitchen table), spilled it on herself and ended up with second-degree burns. I was totally shocked that soup could cause that much damage--and felt guilt and horror at seeing her in so much pain. But after a trip to the ER and a next-day visit to the burn center, I knew she was going to be fine.

But while I was filling out the pages and pages of paperwork I saw something I had never seen before. Do you know how the forms ask (even if you are 3) if you have ever had cancer, heart disease, and/or other diseases? Well, I got to a question that asked if she had ever had an "endocrine disease." Huh? Never really heard of that, what would that be?


Now, I have been reading and writing about chemicals that cause endocrine disruption for years. I don't claim to have the name of every known endocrine disruptor memorized; there are hundreds and hundreds of them. But I do know that the major endocrine-disrupting chemicals most of us come in contact with include:

Bisphenol A (BPA)--this endocrine disruptor is found in almost every plastic item we use, which is a lot: from baby bottles to plastic bags to food storage containers to toys to water bottles (and the linings of cans, too).

Organochlorine pesticides--a major one is atrazine, which has contaminated almost every farm well in America.

• Mercury and lead--well known as toxic metals, but not everyone knows they cause endocrine disruption. The former is being emitted into our air and water by coal-fired power plants, and the latter, although it's been removed from gasoline, is still ubiquitous and surrounds us from old pesticide usage and industrial pollution. Take it from me; I had to have the soil from my old backyard removed because the property once a dump site for leaded paint.

According to a recent, and first ever, scientific statement from the Endocrine Society, there are tons of reasons to be very concerned about the overabundance of these chemicals in our environment. Potential effects range from reproductive problems to cancer to thyroid dysfunction. But I had never made the connection between endocrine disruptors and diabetes. Buried deep in their statement--towards the end--the Endocrine Society says:

"Based on the links between endocrine disruptors and disturbances of reproduction, metabolism, and links to adult dysfunctions and cancer, it is reasonable to propose a connection between EDCs and diabetes as well as pre-diabetic disturbances." (EDCs=endocrine disruption chemicals.)

Over the last decades, and there have been countless studies and investigations into the reasons that diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent. WHAT IF WE'VE BEEN LOOKING AT THE WRONG THING ALL THESE YEARS?

What if, rather than sugar and fat (which are naturally occurring substances), it's really all the chemicals we've been ingesting and exposed to that are truly causing the pandemic of diabetes in our society (and the societies who pick up our lifestyle)? Could obesity also be a consequence of exposure to endocrine disruptors? The Endocrine Society's statement does, in fact, say that these chemicals can influence obesity. What if it's not the actual hamburgers and fried chicken that are making people fat, but all the toxic artificial ingredients that are added, and the chemicals used to make those ingredients (including agricultural chemicals), along with the poisoned packaging that leaches out chemicals into our foods?


For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria's Farm Country Kitchen.