Pesticide exposure linked with increased risk of diabetes

When it comes to impact environmental chemicals such as pesticides have on health, there is generally two schools of thought. One of these is that there’s no evidence of harm, and there is therefore nothing to be concerned about. Others, though, are more circumspect bearing in mind the very alien-to-nature nature of these compounds and their capacity to have potent biological effect in the body. As a result, some end up judging that these substances may possibly have an adverse effect on health.

In a recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, scientists from the National Institutes of Health in the USA assessed the relationship between pesticide exposure and risk of diabetes [1]. The individuals assessed in this study comprised some 33,000 individuals who worked in agriculture, and whose job it was (at least in part) to apply pesticides.

Exposure to some 50 pesticides and risk of diabetes was assessed. The researchers found that exposure to several specific pesticides was linked with increased risk of diabetes.

The researchers specifically looked at the risk associated with lifetime exposure to each chemical of more than 100 days. This level of exposure to the pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and heptachlor was associated with a 24, 59, and 94 per cent increased risk of diabetes respectively. Other pesticides also seemed to have a significant link with diabetes.

This sort of study cannot be used to ‘prove’ that pesticides can cause diabetes. However, the authors of this study do refer to other existing work in animals and humans which supports a link. The authors of the study also conclude that Long-term exposure from handling certain pesticides, in particular, organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides, may be associated with increased risk of diabetes.�


1. Montgomery MP, et al. Incident Diabetes and Pesticide Exposure among Licensed Pesticide Applicators: Agricultural Health Study, 1993″2003. American Journal of Epidemiology 2008 167(10):1235-1246

5 Responses to Pesticide exposure linked with increased risk of diabetes

  1. Jonathan Swift 9 June 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    This is very interesting. Do you think that the potential link is down to the large level of exposure of the workers or do you think it is possible a noticeable effect could occur in indiviuals through “normal” levels of contact

  2. colmcq 10 June 2008 at 8:11 am #

    Looks like a reasonably fair article – so why not this degree of objectivity with the MMR pieces?

  3. MinorityView 11 June 2008 at 3:29 am #

    Gosh, colmcq, I thought the MMR articles were perfectly objective! Funny, too, especially in the comments section.

  4. Megan 11 June 2008 at 7:16 am #

    What other hobby-horse did you get for Christmas, colmcq?

    Dr B, are these the type of pesticides that would be used on grains? If so, could eating those grains such as wheat be a contributory factor to someone developing diabetes?

    I suppose I’m asking if it’s possible to test if it’s the carbs in wheat or the pesticide that can do the damage?

  5. Hilda 14 June 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    It would be important to find out what the mechanism is if there is a true connection. With regard to wheat it is suggested that it can damage the intestines causing leaky gut which can allow protein molecules to enter bloodstream, setting off immune reaction and that diabetes is an autoimmune disease but if you don’t eat it I wonder what could cause it to cause diabetes?

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