The Jerusalem Post

Studies show exposure to environmen­tal chemicals, even in the womb, can cause diabetes

- • By JUDY SIEGEL (Wikimedia)

Fetal exposure to environmen­tal chemicals, including those found in plastics and in air pollution, can cause type 2 diabetes when the child reaches adulthood, according to worrisome new studies.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, a veteran toxicologi­st and director of the US National Institute of Environmen­tal Health Sciences (NIEHS), revealed this informatio­n on Monday at the 10th annual conference of the Environmen­tal and Health Fund (EHF) held at the Jerusalem Internatio­nal Convention Center.

The mission of the NIEHS is to discover how the environmen­t affects people in order to promote healthier lives. In the area of children’s environmen­tal health, NIEHS supports a number of local and internatio­nal research projects that are examining the effects on children’s health of air pollution, metals, pesticides and other environmen­tal contaminan­ts.

Regulation of phthalates in plastics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbo­ns (PAHs) in the air is more strict in the European Union than in the US, and in many cases, even more so than it is in Israel. Speakers at the conference from government and non-government­al organizati­ons agreed that setting official standards generally takes a long time because such standards must be approved by the consensus of numerous bodies. Also, political considerat­ions, such as the need to raise competitio­n and lower consumer prices, may take precedence over health concerns, even regarding children.

Birnbaum, who has been the EHF’s adviser since 2011, visits Israel frequently and is the first toxicologi­st to head the US institute. She noted that BPA exposure in fetuses – and even in their parents before their fetus is conceived – has been shown to cause weight gain, along with more and larger fat cells in adults. BPA can thus cause alteration­s in glucose metabolism and more cases of type 2 diabetes.

Mice exposed to BPA are hungrier and want to be fed more often, said Birnbaum, as the chemicals can affect satiety centers in the brain. “They expend less energy and are less active when they are supposed to be at night.”

Prenatal exposure to PAHs, which come from tobacco smoke and other air pollution, is associated to obesity in childhood. The more your mother was exposed to PAHs, the more you are likely to be obese

PAH comes from air pollution, especially from diesel fuel, continued Birnbaum. It can reduce children’s IQ and also make them overweight, which can result in diabetes. While she noted extremely bad air quality in India, where she visited only a few weeks ago, Birnbaum said parts of Israel have high levels of air pollution due to particulat­e matter from metals in sands as well as from vehicle traffic.

Even significan­t exposure to pesticides – which “don’t stay where they are but get into the soil, the groundwate­r, crops and house dust – can cause diabetes,” said Birnbaum. Certain artificial sweeteners used by dieters and diabetics may also cause poor glucose functionin­g.

A Health Page feature on the conference will appear on Sunday, December 31.

 ?? (Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters) ?? A PREGNANT WOMAN with a fetus painted on her belly. Environmen­tal chemicals can provide a risk.
(Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters) A PREGNANT WOMAN with a fetus painted on her belly. Environmen­tal chemicals can provide a risk.

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