Got questions about life with diabetes? You can always Ask D’Mine! Welcome back to our weekly Q&A column, hosted by longtime type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

Today Wil is exploring the possible connection between a toxic chemical and developing diabetes. Read on…

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Pattie, type 2 from Washington, asks: Relative to BPA exposure and insulin resistance, have you read anything about it and the occurrence of type 2 diabetes?

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Thanks for asking, Pattie. For those unfamiliar, BPA stands for Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that may find its way into our food and beverage supplies. Some experts claim that it is toxic, and it’s been blamed for causing everything from erectile dysfunction to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma, and yes, diabetes.

What is BPA exactly? It’s main organic synthetic compound used in the manufacture of hard plastics. It is the most-produced chemical on the planet, and it’s found in all manner of products from water pipes to compact digital discs.

It’s also the star of one of the greatest scientific debates of all time. Because here’s the thing: BPA is what’s called an endocrine disrupter. If it gets in your body, it can mimic estrogen, which can lead to all manner of health issues. And by simply living in the modern world, BPA gets into our bodies. Our environment is saturated with BPA. As noted, it’s in our food and our water. In the ground. In the products we use and interact with every day.

At one time baby bottles and re-usable water bottles were made with BPA, as were food storage containers, where it tends to seep out into the contents. The interiors of metal cans for canned goods were coated with it, children’s toys were made of it, as were residential water pipes. Hell, it’s even in thermal cash register receipts. It’s estimated that 90% of the citizens of industrialized countries have BPA in their bodies.

Avoiding BPA is like trying to avoid getting that campfire smoke smell on your clothing when going to a cookout.

No one denies the facts that we have BPA in our bodies, and that BPA can be harmful to health. What’s up for grab is whether the levels we all carry around with us are high enough to be harmful. Our government and the chemical industry say no. Hundreds of clinical studies suggest otherwise. Of interest, one study of the studies showed that 100% of industry-funded studies found BPA harmless, while academic studies found significant health risks.


BPA and diabetes

As to your question, BPA has been linked to insulin resistance. Apparently, even at low doses, BPA induces the impairment of insulin and glucagon secretion, and acts on muscle, hepatic, and adipose cell function, triggering an insulin-resistant state. BPA also appears to have an effect on weight, which, of course, increases insulin resistance. In a recent study, childhood obesity was tied to BPA exposure by researchers conducting two meta-analyses “showing bidirectional associations, including exposure effect by obesity and obesity risk by exposure.” The study reviewed over 400 scholarly articles, which tells you something about the volume of research that’s been conducted on the subject of BPA.

As to BPA’s relationship with type 2 diabetes itself, one meta-analysis of sixteen studies that involved over 40,000 subjects found a “positive association” between BPA levels and T2 diabetes risk. And that’s not all. One group of scientists even raises the possibility that the diabetes epidemic could be the result of endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA in the environment. They write, “The prevalence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes has dramatically increased worldwide over the last few decades. Although genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors, like decreased physical activity and energy-dense diet are well-known factors in the pathophysiology of these conditions, accumulating evidence suggests that the increase in endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment also explains a substantial part of the incidence of these metabolic diseases.”

Additionally, there’s evidence that exposure to BPA early in life—perhaps even in the womb—predisposes people to diabetes, meaning early life exposure may be more significant than the levels currently in the ecosystem we now live in


Or MPB may be the culprit

But in defense of BPA, while it does bind to estrogen receptors, it does so weekly, and the half-life of BPA in the body is short, less than six hours. So how can it cause so much trouble? It may prove that BPA is more insidious than first meets the eye. Inside the body, when BPA is metabolized, a byproduct is the creation of another substance called MPB, which acts in a similar fashion, but has a bond that can as much as 1,000 times stronger.


Consumers taking a stand 

The FDA has steadfastly maintained that the levels of BPA in our ecosystem and bodies aren’t harmful, although the agency did ban BPA in baby bottles. But consumers have freaked out, calling for the agency to demand research into substitutes that would be less harmful.

In fact, researchers looking into BPA substitutes bisphenol-S and bisphenol-F report, “Based on the current literature, BPS and BPF are as hormonally active as BPA, and they have endocrine-disrupting effects.” While many new products don’t have BPA, researchers have found it in unexpected places, like in recycled plastics, according to the Mayo Clinic. And it’s still being used to line the interior of the cans of many canned foods.

Federal reassurances notwithstanding, the public outcry has forced changes. A dozen states now regulate BPA. And retailers Target, Walmart, and now Dollar Tree—which also owns Family Dollar, with 15,000 stores nationwide—have joined an initiative called the Chemical Footprint Project, aimed at reducing dangerous chemicals in consumer goods, including BPA.

But it will take at least another generation before BPA is cleaned out of the environment for us to really know if it was BPA that helped trigger the explosive growth of diabetes. Or maybe we’ll never know, because there’s some evidence that BPA can cause epigenetic effects—rewriting our DNA and changing us as a species forever.


Will Dubois lives with type 1 diabetes and is the author of five books on the illness, including “Taming The Tiger” and “Beyond Fingersticks.” He spent many years helping treat patients at a rural medical center in New Mexico. An aviation enthusiast, Wil lives in Las Vegas, NM, with his wife and son, and one too many cats.


This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. Bottom Line: You still need the guidance and care of a licensed medical professional.