The relationship between fish consumption and diabetes risk may be due to toxic pollutants that build up in the aquatic food chain.
In the past two years, six separate meta-analyses have been published on the relationship between fish consumption and type 2 diabetes. The whole point of a meta-analysis, though, is to compile together the best studies done to date and see what the overall balance of evidence shows. The fact that there are six different ones published recently highlights how open the question remains. One thread of consistency, though, was that fish consumers in the United States tended to be at greater risk for diabetes.
If you include Europe, then fisheaters appeared to have a 38% increased risk of diabetes. On a per serving basis, that comes out to be about a 5% increase in risk for every serving of fish one has per week. To put that into perspective, a serving of red meat is associated with 19% increase in risk—but that's per day. Just one serving a week of fish is 5%, so a serving per day would be like 35% increase in risk, worse than red meat, but why?
Well fish intake and omega-3 fats may increase type 2 diabetes risk by increasing blood sugar levels, as found in a review of the evidence commissioned by the U.S. government. An increase in blood sugars in diabetics given fish oil. Or it may be because the omega 3’s cause oxidative stress. A recent study found that the insulin producing cells in the pancreas don’t appear to work as well in people who eat two or more servings of fish a week. Or it may be because of the environmental contaminants that build up in fish.
It all started with Agent Orange. We sprayed 20 million gallons of the stuff on Vietnam, and some of it was contaminated with trace amounts of dioxins. Though the Red Cross there estimates a million Vietnamese were adversely affected, what about all the servicemen who were exposed spraying it across the countryside? Reports started showing up that veterans exposed to Agent Orange appeared to have higher diabetes rates than unexposed veterans, a link that’s now officially recognized.
These so-called persistent organic pollutants are mainly man-made industrial chemicals and among the most hazardous compounds ever synthesized. They include dioxins, PCBs, and certain chlorine-containing pesticides, all of which are highly resistant to breaking down in the environment.
Initially described for their deleterious effects on reproductive function and their ability to cause cancer, there is now a growing body of evidence showing that exposure to these pollutants leads to metabolic diseases, such as diabetes. This is a breakthrough that should require our greatest attention.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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More on the changing views surrounding fish oil supplements in Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?
Other foods associated with diabetes risk include processed meat and eggs. See Bacon, Eggs, and Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy and Eggs and Diabetes, while Indian gooseberries and flaxseeds may help (Amla Versus Diabetes and Flaxseed vs. Diabetes).Other videos on how polluted our oceans now are include:
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