Environmental pollutants and type 2 diabetes: a review of mechanisms that can disrupt beta cell function

Diabetologia. 2011 Jun;54(6):1273-90. doi: 10.1007/s00125-011-2109-5. Epub 2011 Mar 27.


The prevalence of diabetes mellitus is currently at epidemic proportions and it is estimated that it will increase even further over the next decades. Although genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices are commonly accepted reasons for the occurrence of type 2 diabetes, it has recently been suggested that environmental pollutants are additional risk factors for diabetes development and this review aims to give an overview of the current evidence for this. More specifically, because of the crucial role of pancreatic beta cells in the development and progression of type 2 diabetes, the present work summarises the known effects of several compounds on beta cell function with reference to mechanistic studies that have elucidated how these compounds interfere with the insulin secreting capacity of beta cells. Oestrogenic compounds, organophosphorus compounds, persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals are discussed, and a critical reflection on the relevance of the concentrations used in mechanistic studies relative to the levels found in the human population is given. It is clear that some environmental pollutants affect pancreatic beta cell function, as both epidemiological and experimental research is accumulating. This supports the need to develop a solid and structured platform to fully explore the diabetes-inducing potential of pollutants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / drug effects
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Metals, Heavy / adverse effects
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Estrogens
  • Insulin
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Organophosphorus Compounds