Diabetes and Dioxins

Image Credit: Agustin Ruiz / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Dioxins Stored in Our Own Fat May Increase Diabetes Risk

Finding higher diabetes rates among those heavily exposed to toxic pollutants—such as those exposed to Agent Orange, chemical plant explosions, toxic waste dumps, or heavy metals in fish from the Great Lakes—is one thing. Would the same link be found in a random sampling of the general population? Yes. A strong dose-dependent relationship was found between the levels of these pollutants circulating in people’s blood and diabetes. Those with the highest levels of pollutants in their blood stream had 38 times the odds of diabetes.

Interestingly, there was “no association between obesity and diabetes among subjects with non-detectable levels of pollutants.” In other words, “obesity was a risk factor for diabetes only if people had blood concentrations of these pollutants above a certain level.” We know obesity predisposes us to diabetes, but according to this study, highlighted in my video, Diabetes and Dioxins, this is perhaps true only if our bodies are contaminated with industrial pollutants. This finding implies that virtually all the risk of diabetes conferred by obesity is attributable to these pollutants, and that obesity might only be a vehicle for such chemicals. Could we be carrying around our own little toxic waste dump on our hips?

Now it’s entirely possible that the six pollutants they looked at were not themselves causally related to diabetes. Rather, they could just be surrogates of exposure to a mixture of chemicals. After all, 90% of these pollutants in our diet come from animal foods. Except for individuals living or working around industrial sites where these chemicals were used or dumped, the most common source of exposure to PCBs is from diet, from foods of animal origin, especially seafood. The strong relationship the researchers found between certain pollutants and diabetes may just be pointing to other contaminants in animal products.

If these pollutants are particularly found in seafood, are people who eat fish at higher risk for diabetes? See my videos Fish and Diabetes, and Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat.

For more on dioxins, see:

For more on PCBs, see:

These pollutants may also play a role in our rising epidemic of allergic diseases. See Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies and Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

22 responses to “Dioxins Stored in Our Own Fat May Increase Diabetes Risk

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  1. What about if one is very skinny, low percentage body fat, ultra-low? Do these dioxins have no place to attach to, and therefore continue to circulate in system, harming body/brain somehow? I am assuming tissue fat also serves a protective function. Both good and bad features of tissue fat, are there?

    1. Great question. From the last video in the blog on salmon and our own fat, Dr. Greger mentions “So we’re not just exposed by eating the fat of other animals, our own fat can be a continuous source of internal exposure because these persistent pollutants are slowly but continuously released from our fat stores into our circulation. And they don’t call them persistent pollutants for nothing. These chemicals have such a long half-life that people consuming regular (even just monthly) meals of farmed salmon might not only consume high concentrations of pollutants, but some of these chemicals might take between 50 and 75 years to clear from the body.”

      So having a healthy body weight is better (in general), but it does not excuse someone’s risk of accumulating pollutants if they are still eating sources directly.

      1. Good point. Now consider this. Because of its ubiquity, the vast majority of stored body fat is OMEGA 6. It supplies a continuous excess amount to the blood stream which overwhelms cell receptors. This is the reason that standard dietary platitudes for supplementing with Omega 3 foods will not optimize fatty acid metabolism. Optimizing Omega 3s mandates optimizing BMI to get rid of excess Omega 6 fat.

      2. Not sure if you understood my question but is being too skinny actually a bad thing, in regard to ingestion of fish, since the dioxins have nothing to attach to and might therefore circulate throughout body unbounded, adversely affecting body? Being too skinny could be bad, in this regard?

        1. Being underweight (classified by a BMI under 18.5) is unhealthy regardless of fish consumption. I am not sure the course of dioxins or other pollutants in skinnier folks. You may be onto something, as they may have less space to be “stored” therefore will circulate throughout the body. I am not entirely sure though. At any rate the less toxins the better, and maintaining a healthy body weight is important for reducing the risk of a host of diet-related diseases.

      3. “Exposing body to algae and heavy metals in ocean from swimming, bathing in ocean? Does the skin absorb this stuff? Who knows, but I think it is pertinent for Dr. Gregor to address this considering he spends enormous amounts space on this website claiming that ocean fish consumption is harmful and to be avoided. It just makes sense.”

        Joseph, the above I posted on another day (July 29/2015 video) , but wanted you to see it as you might be able to suggest to Dr. Gregor to address this question, being that he raises a serious alarm to fish consumption, to the point where it seems toxic in any amount. At least that is how I perceive his view. Thanks for feedback or efforts.


        1. I’ve never seen anything about our skin’s ability to absorb heavy metals. If anyone does please let me know!

  2. Diabetes in those heavily exposed to toxic pollution such as … heavy metals in fish from the Great Lakes links to a study about GL fish contaminated with organochlorines–an entirely different problem than heavy metals such as mercury in terms of how and where and when and what is contaminated.

    Perhaps the good doctor could prepare a video for those who choose to eat fish so they can minimize or avoid exposure to contaminants? e.g., light not white tuna, wild not farmed salmonids, http://www.ontario.ca/environment-and-energy/guide-eating-ontario-fish.

    I suspect I was exposed to more PCBs using microscope immersion oil (1970s) than ever I was from fish… :-(

    1. Eh? Perhaps the good doctor could prepare a video for those who chose to smoke so that they can minimize or avoid exposure to contaminants?

        1. I see a comparison. As Dr McDougall says – People like to hear good news about their bad habits. Dr Gregor has shown us enough studies to realize that we would be better off with no or very little of any kind of fish. i choose none.
          The people that smoked when the studies started coming out showing the harms of tobacco wanted more studies until they died of cancer from smoking. Lets let the fish go while we still can !!!

      1. As a diabetic I also worry about pollutants.What about Sjogren’s syndrome which often accompanies other immune system disorders, such as diabetes?

  3. Michael,

    I could not find a reference for this statement: “90% of these pollutants in our diet come from animal foods”

    I did find a reference of dioxin, but to no other pollutants. Do you have a reference?

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