Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Do Chemicals Cause Diabetes?

Is it true that certain widely used chemicals can cause type 2 diabetes? If so, which ones are to blame, and what can we do to avoid them?

Answer (Published 9/28/2012)

I believe the chemicals you're referring to are phthalates, commonly called "plasticizers," compounds which are used to make plastics more flexible. They're everywhere: in bottles, toys, kitchenware, cosmetics, moisturizers, soaps, nail polish, hair sprays, perfumes, raincoats, product packaging, wall coverings, shower curtains, detergents - the list goes on and on. A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston published in July 2012 found a link between these chemicals and diabetes in women. Researchers analyzed urinary concentrations of phthalates in 2,350 women aged 20 to 80 participating in the government-sponsored National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that those with higher levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to have diabetes than those with low levels.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Diabetics - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for Diabetics - If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, an anti-inflammatory diet can help promote healthy blood sugar levels. Sign up for the Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide for diabetic-friendly recipes, eating guides and an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid - join today and get 14 days free!

The rate of type 2 diabetes diagnoses has been increasing - it is now twice what it was 30 years ago. The obesity epidemic and inactivity usually are blamed for this change, but phthalates may play a role, too. They are known to disrupt the endocrine system, affecting production of hormones, including insulin and estrogen. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive abnormalities in male laboratory animals, and some studies have also found associations with liver cancer and infertility in men. Concerns about the health effects of phthalates resulted in a ban on their use in consumer products in the European Union, and in 2008 Congress banned six phthalates from children's toys and cosmetics here.

The diabetes link is problematic because phthalates are found in medical products including tubing, IV bags, and some medications; it's possible that women who already had diabetes may have had greater exposure during treatment.

Right now, we don't know what came first - the diabetes or the phthalates, but we do know that those at the highest risk of exposure to these chemicals are dialysis patients, hemophiliacs, and persons who received blood transfusions from sources that use medical tubing or containers made with phthalates. Also at high risk are painters, printers, and others exposed to phthalates during the manufacture, formulation, and processing of plastics.

It's a good idea to avoid phthalates, but it is also very difficult, since they're found in so many different products. You can't even be sure that a product labeled "phthalate free" won't expose you to the chemicals - there may be none of the chemicals in the product itself, but there may be some in the packaging.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here