New study links diabetes to the hidden amounts of mercury in processed foods
If you thought the lead found in dog treats was bad, wait till you find out what’s in the processed food you eat.
Big Island of Hawai'i, US —The epidemic of type-2 diabetes in the United States (U.S.) may be linked to the inorganic mercury exposure from consumption of processed foods found in the typical American diet according to a new study released today in Integrative Molecular Medicine The study explores how inorganic mercury levels rise with fasting sugar or glucose levels. Based on two sets of data, the researchers determined a connection between blood inorganic mercury levels and fasting glucose.
One data set was obtained from a clinical trial conducted in Montana at the Fort Peck Community College in collaboration with the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI). During the ten week trial, one group of students participated in a ten week online nutrition intervention course while another group of students participated in a support group to eliminate corn sweeteners from their diet. The students who completed the online intervention course significantly reduced their intake of processed foods while increasing their consumption of whole and organic foods. At the end of the trial, the online group had significantly decreased their fasting glucose levels and had lower blood inorganic mercury levels compared to the students in the support group who only tried to eliminate corn sweeteners from their diet. There appeared to be a connection between inorganic mercury and glucose levels in the blood samples collected from the students in the trial.
The researchers then examined data collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The NHANES data is considered the gold standard. Blood samples are collected annually from Americans across the country and then analyzed by CDC to determine the health status of Americans by looking at their fasting glucose, cholesterol and toxic substance exposure levels. When the Fort Peck collaborators analyzed the inorganic mercury and glucose results of the 16,232 blood samples analyzed by CDC, they found a direct association between inorganic blood mercury and fasting glucose levels. What this means is the higher the consumer’s inorganic blood mercury level, the higher their fasting glucose level and the more likely they are to become diabetic over time if they do not make dietary changes such as reducing their consumption of processed foods. Surprisingly there was no association between organic blood mercury levels and fasting glucose so the mercury exposure from fish consumption does not appear to play a role in the development of type-2 diabetes. At FIHRI’s request, Dan Laks, a researcher at UCLA conducted the statistical analysis.
Mercury exposure has previously been identified as a factor in the development of insulin resistance and diabetes by other researchers including Dr. He and his colleague who published an article in Diabetes Care in 2013. He and his team, however, did not differentiate between inorganic and organic mercury species or try to determine the source of mercury exposure.
In this study, the mercury species were determined by FIHRI volunteer researcher Dr. Skip Kingston who analyzed the Fort Peck blood samples at his Duquesne University laboratory. “To better address the explosion of type-2 diabetes, it’s critical we consider which mercury species is involved in the development of insulin resistance and the source of this mercury exposure,” said Dr. Steven Gilbert, a study co-author and toxicologist at the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders.
Commander (ret.) Renee Dufault (U.S. Public Health Service), the Principal Investigator and study’s lead author, used the innovative scientific approach called macroepigentics to pinpoint the role of inorganic mercury exposure and other dietary factors in the development of type-2 diabetes. In taking a “macroepigenetics approach,” researchers consider how factors of nutrition, environment and genetic makeup interact and contribute to the eventual development of a particular health outcome. Inorganic mercury, for example, has been found in previous studies to reduce the activity of the GLUT4 gene which is responsible for maintaining glucose homeostasis.
Dufault retired early from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to publish the findings of mercury in high fructose corn syrup with collaborators a number of years ago. “Inorganic mercury exposure may occur from the consumption of heavily processed foods such as those made with chlorinated flour, sodium chemicals manufactured with mercury cell chlor-alkali products or food ingredients derived from corn starch,” said Renee Dufault, founder of FIHRI. The international food safety standards allow up to 1 part inorganic mercury per million parts food ingredient. There are several food ingredients that may contain up to 1 ppm inorganic mercury. The FDA and other food safety agencies do not consider the cumulative or long term effects of the overall inorganic mercury exposure people may have as a result of their processed food consumption.
“With type-2 diabetes skyrocketing, we need a health education system that promotes the reduced consumption of processed foods and increased consumption of whole, unadulterated foods”, said Dr. Schnoll, a nutrition researcher at Brooklyn College and FIHRI volunteer. As part of the current study, the authors found a 9,457% increase in the consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the United States between 1970 and 2010. In a separate study published in 2012, Teixeira and his research team reported that a high fructose diet can increase intestinal permeability in obesity creating a mechanism for toxicants like inorganic mercury to enter the bloodstream. Several studies have already been published on the association between HFCS consumption and obesity.
Fasting glucose or sugar levels are associated with blood inorganic mercury. The current study sought to determine how environmental and dietary factors, like processed food consumption, might combine to contribute to the development of type-2 diabetes.
Community members who participated in the support group to eliminate corn sweeteners from their diet significantly reduced their weight and body mass index. Consumption of corn sweeteners may be a risk factor in the development of obesity.
“Rather than being independent sources of risk, factors like nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals are cumulative and synergistic in their potential to disrupt glucose homeostasis,” said Renee Dufault, a former FDA toxicologist and whistleblower. “These epigenetic effects can also be transmitted across generations. As type-2 diabetes prevalence continues to climb it is imperative to incorporate this new epigenetic perspective into prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.”
The alternative online nutrition intervention course emphasizing the role food ingredients and toxic substances play in gene modulation and the development of diseases administered in this study resulted in significant dietary improvements in the students who completed the course. These dietary changes led to reductions in risk factors associated with type-2 diabetes, including blood inorganic mercury and fasting glucose levels. “The design and content of the macroepigenetics nutrition intervention course enabled our students to make the dietary changes they needed to improve their health status,” said Zara Berg, a study co-author who was a professor at the Fort Peck Community College.
The authors of this study have given insight into the complex interplay between some of the factors that lead to the development of type-2 diabetes. In order to curb the epidemic of type-2 diabetes in the U. S. continued analysis of how processed food consumption may contribute to the body burden of toxic substances and how these environmental toxicants impact gene function must be key areas of research moving forward.
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The Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute (FIHRI) is a non-profit organization devoted entirely to food ingredient safety, education, and research. foodingredient.info
Additional study authors:
Raquel Crider, PhD, Shepherd University
Larry Wetsit, M.S., Fort Peck Community College
Wayne Two Bulls, Fort Peck Community College
Mesay Mulugeta Wolle, PhD, Duquesne University
G.M. Mizanur Rahman, PhD, SIDMS
Copyright December 2019 by Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute, PO Box 1055, Naalehu, HI, 96772 Email questions or concerns to Renee Dufault at firstname.lastname@example.org