11 Surprising Diabetes Triggers

The causes of diabetes aren't limited to your kitchen and cupboards.

April 24, 2012
Scented candles that set the mood

The connection: Phthalates are plasticizing, hormone-disrupting chemicals dubbed "obesogens" for their likely ability to promote weight gain. An April study also found that people with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies were twice as likely to have diabetes, a hormonal disease. Phthalates often lurk in synthetic fragrances, including those in scented candles.

Protect yourself: You don't have to totally kick your candle habit. Just burn beeswax candles; they naturally produce air-cleaning negative ions.

Read More: Study: Scented Candles Spew Carcinogens

Your morning routine

The connection: Just as phthalates lurk in scented candles, they're added to personal care products to disperse their aromas, so you're likely washing, lathering, and moisturizing with artificially fragranced products containing the chemicals.

Protect yourself: Avoid personal care products listing "parfum" or "fragrance" in the ingredients. That's a broad term that often signals phthalate ingredients. Ditch the vinyl shower curtain, too. Vinyl is loaded with phthalates. (Cotton and hemp alternatives are great. Hemp is naturally antimicrobial.) Visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to rate your current products, and to find safer alternatives.

Read More: How to Clean Up Your Toxic Shower

Your insomniac tendencies

The connection: Your body loses its natural ability to regulate hormone levels when you're sleep deprived. In fact, even one night of little sleep can cause the body to show signs of insulin resistance, a major risk factor for diabetes. Chronic sleeplessness--estimates are 10 percent of the population is sleep deprived--makes risk skyrocket.People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are 4½ times more likely to develop insulin resistance. A recent study in Science Translational Medicine showed that people who regularly get less than 5½ hours of sleep a night gain an average of 10 pounds and suffer worsening glucose levels.

Protect yourself: After the sun sets, focus on avoiding as much artificial light as possible so your body can tap into its natural nocturnal rhythms. Stay away from lit screens for at least two hours before bedtime to increase sleep quality.

Read More: 5 Natural Sleep Aids

The water bottle you tote to the gym

The connection: Lab studies have linked bisphenol A, or BPA, to accelerated fat-cell growth and disrupted pancreatic cell functioning, which can lead to insulin resistance.

Protect yourself: Found in many No. 7 water bottles, it's best to opt for glass or food-grade stainless steel water bottles. Be wary of BPA-free plastic products--chances are, the BPA replacement hasn't been thoroughly tested for safety, either.

Read More: What Is a "Hormone Disruptor" Anyway?

Your neighbor's wood-burning stove

The connection: A 2012 study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution--the type created from wood-burning stoves and industrial activities--can lead to a significant increase in hospitalizations for not just heart and lung disease, but also diabetes.

Protect yourself: If wood burning is creating a problem in your area, form a group of concerned citizens and lobby your local government to ban the polluting practice, or allow only newer models of wood-burning stoves that have high efficiency ratings and low emissions of air-polluting particulate matter.

Read More: How Particulate Pollution Wrecks Your Health

Your fragrance fixation

The connection: Hormone-disrupting fragrance chemicals in household air fresheners, perfumes, colognes, and common cleaning products are loaded with fat-promoting chemicals tied to increased diabetes risk.

Protect yourself: Say good-bye to air freshening sprays, gels, and scanted cleaners. Not only do they likely contain dangerous phthalates, but also many contain industrial chemicals that spark asthma attacks and brain fog.

Make It!
DIY Nontoxic Air Fresheners

Your mom's smoking habit

The connection: A National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that mothers who smoke increase the risk that their children will develop obesity problems later in life. Specifically, it seems the prenatal nicotine exposure sets a person up for obesity and related problems, such as diabetes, later in life.

Protect yourself: Whether you're pregnant or not, it's best to avoid smoking and second- and third-hand smoke.

Bee-killing chemicals

The connection: Some pesticides, in particular, bug-killing insecticides, affect neurotransmitters involved with regulating vital jobs of the pancreas. Interestingly, neonicotinoids, the same type of farm chemical now blamed for massive honeybee deaths, has been linked to diabetes-promoting problems in pancreatic functioning. Another bug-killing chemical, carbamate, is linked to diabetes-promoting changes. Residues of this pesticide are most often found on nonorganic strawberries and peaches.

Protect yourself: Work organic foods into the budget now to save on healthcare costs down the road. The organic label means no synthetic pesticides were used to grow the food.

Read More: The 15 Grossest Things You're Eating

One of America's favorite weedkillers

The connection: Atrazine, one of the go-to weedkillers in U.S. agriculture, has also been shown to turn male amphibians into females because of the chemical's hormone-disrupting properties--even with low levels of exposure. In areas where atrazine is regularly sprayed, such as the Midwest, people are more likely to be obese, a top risk factor for diabetes.

Protect yourself: Eat organic. If you're in a farming area and concerned about atrazine water contamination, National Resources Defense Council recommends purchasing an NSF water filter that meets the ANSI Standard 53 for VOC reduction (this also removes atrazine).

Read More: The Top Suspected Autism-Causing Chemicals

Your laundry routine

The connection: Scented laundry products are bursting with chemicals tied to insulin-regulating health problems associated with diabetes. In fact, some people are so acutely sensitive to these chemicals that laundry chemicals wafting from coworkers' clothing sparks migraines or nausea in them. Studies have shown these chemicals aren't good for any of us and pollute indoor air.

Protect yourself: Save money and your health by trading in scented detergents and dryer sheets for unscented soaps and natural laundry boosters and rinse aids, such as borax, baking soda, and vinegar.

Read More: 3 Easy Homemade Laundry Detergents

Your contaminated dinner

The connection: There are hundreds of studies linking persistent organic pollutants--pollution that doesn't degrade in the environment--to diabetes and related health problems like insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Organochlorine pesticides like banned-but-still-persistent DDT and PCBs, now-banned electronics chemicals, show the strongest association to diabetes.

Protect yourself: Since these chemicals build up in animal fat, eat lower on the food chain to avoid ingesting them. If you live in a home full of meat eaters, try meat- and cheese-less meals once or twice a week to cut back. Trim fatty parts of meats and choose safer fish like wild Pacific sardines or wild-caught Alaskan salmon.