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Diabetes Triggers You Might Not Expect

Weight, family history, inactivity, age and diet have long been considered the main culprits behind diabetes. And while these all do play a major role, there are also other diabetes triggers that many of us would never expect.

According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, more than 30 million people are living withdiabetes, and that number is believed to jump to 100 million when people who are considered prediabetic are included. Diabetes is a serious, and at times a life-threatening, disease that inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce insulin. 

Sadly, there are many people who are diabetic or prediabetic and do not know it.Today we are learning more and more about how diabetes manifests and the different factors that could be responsible. Some of them may come as a surprise. 

Diabetes & The Role of Insulin

If you’re not familiar with exactly what diabetes is, let’s start by defining it. In a nutshell, diabetes is an inability on the part of the body to produce or respond appropriately to the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates the body’s blood glucose levels and helps the body absorb glucose to be used for energy. Basically, the foods we consume are broken down into several nutrients by the digestive system. These are then sent to the bloodstream. One of those nutrients is glucose (sugar), which is a major energy source for the human body. When you have high blood glucose levels, your pancreas activates and starts producing insulin.

Since people who are diabetic and even pre-diabetic are often unable to produce enough or any insulin to control their sugar levels, they are faced with many health complications including weight issues, weakness, frequent infections, slow-healing wounds, heart diseases, and risk of strokes among others.

Types of Diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes, with Type-2 diabetes by far the most prevalent.

  • Type-1 Diabetes. In type-1 diabetes, the immune system attacks pancreatic cells. As a result, the body is unable to produce insulin. Type-1 is most commonly observed in children and adolescents, but adults can also develop this disease.
  • Type-2 Diabetes. Type-2 diabetes accounts for about 90-95% of all diabetic cases in the United States. In a person who has this type of diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin. As a result, the pancreas is unable to create enough insulin to overcome this challenge.
  • Gestational Diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a complication faced by pregnant women. Fortunately, but not always, it often goes away after the baby has been born.

Common Causes of Diabetes

Experts typically focus on these top risk factors for type 2 diabetes:

  • Genetics/Family history
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor diet
  • Age
  • Race

However, new research is uncovering other diabetes triggers you need to be aware of, especially if any of the above risk factors apply to you.

Unexpected Diabetes Triggers

Even if you take precautions to avoid the factors listed above that you can control (obesity, lack of activity/exercise, and poor diet) and don’t have any history of diabetes, you might still be at risk. Certainchemicals can act as triggers after prolonged exposure. Alarmingly, these chemicals are more common than you might think.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Bisphenol A (or justBPA) is an industrial-grade synthetic compound that is found in many day-to-day products. It is commonly found in:

  • Plastic food containers
  • Canned foods
  • Plastic bottles
  • Food packaging
  • Toys

BPA is toxic and has been known to cause a number of diseases and other medical complications. It can also leave diabetogenic effects. According to theInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, prolonged exposure to BPA could have adverse effects on the pancreas, which could result in lowered production of insulin and higher chances of the body becoming insulin-resistant.

Tips to avoid BPA

  • Before buying baby bottles (or water bottles), make sure that they are BPA-free.
  • Avoid eating canned foods.
  • Use plates made of glass or porcelain.
  • Do not heat food in plastic containers.


Arsenic is a toxic metalloid that can be detected in underground water. Consuming large amounts of arsenic could result in serious diseases, including cancer,heart diseases, respiratory diseases, and yes, diabetes. Research has proven that arsenic can inhibit the human body’s secretion of insulin, which results in type-2 diabetes. Apart from water, arsenic can also be found in air, oil, and food (especially in rice).

Tips to avoid arsenic

  • Use a water filter.
  • Thoroughly wash rice, vegetables, and fruits before cooking.
  • Avoid eating rice regularly.
  • Avoid rice-based cereals.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Another unexpected trigger is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are commonly found in various fuel sources. They are present in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. Burning wood, coal, oil, gasoline, and even tobacco can also produce PAHs, which can contaminate the air. A study byOccupational and Environmental Medicineshowed that people with heavy exposure to PAHs were at risk of developing type-2 diabetes and displayed different symptoms.

Tips to avoid PAHs

It’s difficult to absolutely avoid PAHs. However, you could minimize your exposure with the following tips:

  • Wear smoke masks when you walk on foot in high-traffic/busy streets.
  • Keep your car windows up while driving.
  • Stay away from smokers/second hand smoke.
  • Don’t come into contact with soot.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are artificial chemicals that are used to create temperature-resistant objects like capacitors, electrical equipment, etc. Though PCBs have been banned in the US, they still pose a risk. The scary thing about PCBs is that once they’re absorbed by the human body, they can stay there for a very long time. They can still be found in landfills and old garbage dumps. As per the result of studies conducted by Bob Weinhold of the Society of Environmental Journalists, long-term exposure to PCBs resulted in various medical disasters in mice, including resistance to insulin.

Tips to avoid PCBs

It’s unlikely to come across PCBs in the United States. However, there are still some safety precautions that you can take to eliminate the risks:

  • When travelling abroad, make sure to not visit garbage dumps/go near burning trash.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Discard decades old fluorescent lights and electrical equipment.

Other diabetes triggers

  • Mercury– Being an infamously toxic material, mercury can lead to type-2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
  • Phthalates– These materials are used to enhance the durability of various plastic products, and have been known to induce symptoms associated with type-2 diabetes.
  • Cadmium– Released by smelting and mining, traces of cadmium can be found in foods. Medical experts believe that it is directly linked to type-2 diabetes.

Bottom Line

When it comes to minimizing the risks of diabetes, you can never be too careful. Every day, we come into contact with different toxic materials, some of which are known triggers for diabetes. By making sure that your surroundings arefree from poisonous chemicals, and taking other safety measures to minimize exposure, you can help cut down the likelihood of developing diabetes. If you do find yourself with a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes then it’s important to cultivate healthy lifestyle habits includingproper nutrition,daily exercise routine, getting 7-9 hours ofquality sleep each night and engaging in a routinestress management programs likeyoga or other activities to turn things around.

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