A team of scientists have found links between use of pesticides and the high prevalence of diabetes in India. They have suggested that view of the high occurrence of diabetes in India, the use of OP (organophosphate) pesticides should be reconsidered. The team – which had been conducting the research in rural areas of South India – suggests that if people are continuously exposed common OP pesticides like Malathion and Chlorpyrifos, they can get diabetes even when they do not have the other risk factors.
The OP pesticides are used in widely used in agriculture. Malathion is used even in urban areas to control mosquitoes and termites.
The scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University found the prevalence of diabetes in people regularly exposed to insecticides was three-fold higher (18.3 per cent) than in unexposed people (6.2 per cent).
Scientists said this was a marked departure from tradition, since the 3,080 people surveyed were physically active and did not have the better known risk factors for diabetes like obesity and high cholesterol.
The scientists have published their results in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology. They also conducted experiments on mice, in which they found that exposure to pesticides upsets the micro-flora of the gut, leading to the onset of diabetes.
To examine whether chronic exposure to OP may be a risk factor for hyperglycemia, the researchers fed groups of up to 10 mice an OP insecticide in drinking water for 180 days – equivalent of 12-15 years of human life. They found that after 180 days, the mice exposed to pesticides exhibited a slow and steady rise in glucose and sugar levels in blood. Further tests on people suggested similar links.
India is considered the diabetes capital of the world, with over 65 million suffering from the disease. The figures are second only to China, where 102 million suffer from diabetes.
Dr Ambrish Mithal, Head, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Medanta, the Medicity hospital in Gurugram, says the results are “not confirmatory but opens up new possibilities”. The scientists suggest extra caution should be exercised when using organophosphate pesticides.
OP pesticides are known to affect memory and concentration, cause depression, headache and speech difficulties. US researchers say they could be a contributing factor in learning disability and behavioural problems in children.