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PCBs May Be Causing Diabetes’ Growth

May 27, 2008

PCBs, toxic chemicals found nearly everywhere on the planet, may be fueling the diabetes epidemic, according to a study by researchers at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

Preliminary findings of the study show the risk of developing diabetes is four times higher among people ages 35 to 54 who were exposed to above-average levels polychlorinated biphenyls — PCBs for short.


"I tend to be one of those scientists who says, If there’s smoke, we should check out if there’s a fire,’ " said Allen Silverstone, one of three Upstate Medical researchers involved in the study. "We found a fire here."

Silverstone, Dr. Ruth Weinstock and Paula Rosenbaum studied the prevalence of diabetes among residents of Anniston, Ala. PCBs were manufactured in Anniston from 1929 until the early 1970s, and high levels of PCBs still exist in the community.
The Upstate Medical researchers were part of a consortium of investigators from universities across the country examining different health effects of PCBs in Anniston.

PCBs are mixtures of up to 209 compounds containing carbon, hydrogen and chlorine in different patterns. PCBs were used in a variety of equipment and consumer products, such as electrical transformers and capacitors, carbonless carbon paper, paint, chlorinated rubbers, plastics, sealants, caulking, adhesives, glues and tapes.

The federal government banned the manufacture and use of PCBs in 1976 for any application that was not totally enclosed because of growing evidence of their health and environmental risks. PCBs are believed to cause cancer.

Even though they are no longer made, PCBs are in the air, food, water and soil. Many former industrial sites were polluted with these chemicals.

The number of people with diabetes worldwide has grown from 30 million to more than 246 million over the past 20 years. People with diabetes cannot produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, amputations in adults and kidney failure. Many people with the disease die of heart attacks and strokes.

Much of the increase in diabetes has been blamed on the dramatic rise in obesity. Silverstone and his colleagues, however, suspected an environmental factor also was behind the diabetes surge.


Risk for Metabolic Syndrome Linked to Sleep Duration: Short sleep duration compared with 7 to 8 hours of sleep is associated with greater risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic syndrome criteria of abdominal obesity, elevated glucose, and elevated triglycerides, but not BP and HDL cholesterol. See This Weeks’ Item #6