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Environmental pollutants that just won't go away may be making you fat, and giving you diabetes. Here is the latest research on environmental toxins and diabetes, with a call for action.

Persistent organic pollutants, also known as POPs, are toxins in the environment that resist weathering, decay, and degradation. POPs are pollution that just won't go away. 

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And recently European scientists have confirmed that these persistent pollutants are a major contributing factor to both obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Eveline L. Dirinck, MD, a physician with the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetology, and Metabolism in Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium and her colleagues published the results of their cross-sectional study of 151 obese and 44 normal-weight individuals in the July2014 issue of Diabetes Care. Dirinck and her collaborators looked at 28 kinds of POPs that are found all over the world, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCPs) and the pesticide pesticide p,p'- dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE). They found that people who have the highest levels of these 28 chemicals in their bloodstreams are the most likely to be obese.

Then Dirinck and her research colleagues looked a variety of factors that are known to contribute to the risk of diabetes, including age, sex, body mass index (BMI), family history of diabetes, and abdominal fat mass, and looked for interactions between specific POPs and these factors and diagnosis of diabetes. The research team found that the amount of a chemical called PCB153 in the bloodstream, the total amount of all PCBs in the bloodstream, and the amount of p,p'-DDE in the bloodstream all predicted insulin resistance, the condition that leads to type 2 diabetes. Dr. Dirinck and the scientists working with her also found that the amount of p,p'-DDE in body fat also predicted insulin resistance and diabetes.

Exactly how these environmental contaminants may cause diabetes was not immediately evident.

The researchers did not find that the chemicals forced the pancreas to make more insulin, which would be one way of explaining the process leading to insulin resistance and diabetes.

 But this study adds to evidence already uncovered in Belgium that PCBs and DDE, which are even found in places like Antarctica, may be part of the reason for the obesity and diabetes epidemics that are sweeping the world. 

So what can ordinary people do to protect themselves against persistent organic pollutants? Here are 10 suggestions.

1. Become a fussy eater when it comes to fish

Wild caught fish, for example, avoids problems from fecal contamination in fish farms, but you need to eat wild caught fish that either harvested by fishers who monitor their catch for PCBs and heavy metals, and if you eat locally caught fish or shellfish, including those you catch yourself, check state advisories on PCB contamination, if any. Commercial fish and shellfish that are often high in persistent organic pollutants include  Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild striped bass, white and Atlantic croker, blackback or winter flounder, summer flounder, and blue crab.

2. Become a fussy cook for fish, too

Fat concentrates POPs. Grill fish so that fat drips away as the fish cooks.

3. Cut back on high-fat dairy products

When cattle are exposed to DDE from fields or PCBs from "junk" left behind in the farming process, they concentrate the chemicals in their fat. The less fat you consume, the fewer POPs get into your system.

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