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Link between common synthetic chemicals and diabetes

The headline from the University at Buffalo study is that exposure to some types of insecticides adversely affects melatonin receptor signalling. This leads to a higher risk for metabolic diseases occurring, including type 2 diabetes.

The finding came about through a ‘big data’ project whereby data pertaining to millions of chemicals and laboratory tests were number crunched through a computer. The data was the n cross-linked to health reports. This analysis found that some chemicals, such as those found in common garden insecticides, can disrupt the circadian rhythms that shape the human body clock. Such disruption raises the risk of a person developing diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

The reason for this appears to be the influence exerted by the chemicals on human melatonin receptors, according to lead researcher Professor Margarita L. Dubocovich. This came as a surprise, as the academic comments in her research brief: “No one was thinking that the melatonin system was affected by these compounds, but that’s what our research shows.”

Certain chemicals are structurally similar to melatonin and they show affinity for the melatonin, MT2 receptors. These means the chemicals can, in theory, alter glucose homeostasis and insulin secretion. The effect of this is body clock disruption. This in turn can lead to sleep disruption and metabolic illnesses.

The chemicals of concern are carbaryl and carbofuran. Of these, carbaryl is the third most widely used insecticide in the U.S. (although it is banned in many other countries). Carbofuran has been banned for applications on food crops for human consumption in the U.S. since 2009. However, it is permitted to be used in some other countries like Mexico.

The research group argue that their findings prompt for a review of the use of such chemicals. They also call for the development of improved laboratory tests designed to detect the chemicals.

The research has been published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology. The research paper is titled “Carbamate Insecticides Target Human Melatonin Receptors.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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