The Link between Arsenic Exposure and Diabetes: A Review of the Current Research

March 11, 2014
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources

SpeArsenic Exposure and Type 2 Diabetesaker Presentation Slides

Dr. Navas-Acien: Arsenic Exposure and Type 2 Diabetes

Additional Resources

CHE Blog: Diabetes and the Environment: Arsenic

NTP workshop review of arsenic and diabetes: Maull EA, Ahsan H, Edwards J, Longnecker MP, Navas-Acien A, Pi J, Silbergeld EK, Styblo M, Tseng CH, Thayer KA, Loomis D. 2012. Evaluation of the association between arsenic and diabetes: a National Toxicology Program workshop review. Environ.Health Perspect. 120(12):1658-1670.

Additional Papers by Speakers

Gribble MO, Howard BV, Umans JG, Shara NM, Francesconi KA, Goessler W, Crainiceanu CM, Silbergeld EK, Guallar E, Navas-Acien A. 2012. Arsenic Exposure, Diabetes Prevalence, and Diabetes Control in the Strong Heart Study. Am.J.Epidemiol. Nov 15;176(10):865-74.

Navas-Acien A, Silbergeld EK, Pastor-Barriuso R, Guallar E. 2008. Arsenic exposure and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in US adults. JAMA 300(7):814-822.

Bailey KA, Wu MC, Ward WO, Smeester L, Rager JE, Garcia-Vargas G, Del Razo LM, Drobna Z, Styblo M, Fry RC. 2013. Arsenic and the epigenome: interindividual differences in arsenic metabolism related to distinct patterns of DNA methylation. J.Biochem.Mol.Toxicol.27(2):106-115.

Douillet C, Currier J, Saunders J, Bodnar WM, Matousek T, Styblo M. 2013. Methylated trivalent arsenicals are potent inhibitors of glucose stimulated insulin secretion by murine pancreatic islets. Toxicol.Appl.Pharmacol. 267(1):11-15.

Listen to Recording

There is strong evidence that high levels of arsenic exposure can increase the risk of diabetes. Can lower levels of exposure as well? This is one of the questions that researchers are now trying to answer. This call featured two experts who study arsenic and diabetes, Dr. Ana Navas-Acien and Dr. Mirek Styblo. Dr. Navas-Acien discussed epidemiological evidence linking arsenic to diabetes, focusing on lower exposure levels, such as those found in the US. Dr. Styblo reviewed the potential mechanisms involved in the diabetogenic effects of arsenic.

One interesting aspect of arsenic-induced diabetes is that it seems to be somewhat different from typical type 1 (autoimmune) or type 2 (insulin resistant) diabetes. Many of the human studies have found that arsenic exposure is indeed associated with diabetes, but surprisingly, not necessarily with insulin resistance. It seems that diabetes linked to arsenic exposure may combine mechanisms involved in type 1 and 2 diabetes or may involve entirely different mechanisms.

Featured Speakers

Mirek Styblo, PhD, is an adjunct and associate professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He is a biochemist with background in nutritional biochemistry and biochemical toxicology. His research focuses on topics that require expertise in both nutrition and toxicology and typically involve a translational or interdisciplinary approach. These include 1) metabolic interactions between essential and toxic trace elements found in the food chain or in the environment, 2) environmentally induced diseases (e.g., cancer or diabetes associated with exposure to arsenic) and the role of diet or specific nutrients in prevention of these diseases, 3) modulation of the therapeutic efficacy or toxic side effects of anticancer drugs by diet or specific nutrients, and 4) development of analytical techniques for identification of biomarkers of health effects of the essential and toxic trace elements. The ultimate goal of his work is to characterize the role of essential and toxic trace elements in etiology of common human diseases and to identify molecular, metabolic and genetic markers that would facilitate risk assessment, prevention or treatment of these diseases.

Ana Navas-Acien, MD, PhD, is an associate professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a physician-epidemiologist with a specialty in preventive medicine and public health and with a long-term interest in the health consequences of widespread environmental exposures. Based on an epidemiologic approach, her research investigates chronic health effects of arsenic, selenium, lead, cadmium and other trace metals. Given the paucity of epidemiologic data at low/moderate levels, the possible biological basis, and the controversy for current environmental standards, this challenging area of research is potentially relevant for public health. For exposures with large epidemiologic evidence of the adverse health effects, such as secondhand smoke, her interest is to conduct research in support of progressive policies to reduce involuntary exposure to environmental toxins.