Exposure to persistent organic pollutants: relationship with abnormal glucose metabolism and visceral adiposity

Diabetes Care. 2014 Jul;37(7):1951-8. doi: 10.2337/dc13-2329.


Objective: The contribution of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to the pandemic of type 2 diabetes mellitus and obesity has been assumed but remains speculative. Our study aimed at investigating the relationship of POP levels with detailed markers of glucose metabolism and body composition.

Research design and methods: Glucose tolerance was determined in a group of normal-weight and obese individuals. Fat distribution was assessed with abdominal computed tomography (CT) scanning, determining subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and visceral adipose tissue (VAT). Selected POPs (28 polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] and the pesticide p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene [p,p'-DDE]) were measured in serum. In a subset of obese individuals undergoing bariatric surgery, POPs were also measured in adipose tissue.

Results: Among obese participants, serum and adipose tissue levels of POPs were significantly correlated to glucose levels during an oral glucose tolerance test. Logistic regression using a model including age, age(2), sex, family history of diabetes, BMI, CT-VAT, smoking behavior, physical activity level score, and a POP level identified serum levels of PCB153, the sum of PCBs and p,p'-DDE as significant predictors of abnormal glucose tolerance (odds ratio 4.6, 4.8, and 3.4, respectively; P < 0.05). Adipose tissue levels of p,p'-DDE were also significant predictors (odds ratio 81.6; P < 0.05). Serum levels of PCBs were inversely related to BMI, while serum and adipose tissue levels of all POPs were positively related to the CT-VAT/SAT ratio, suggesting an important role for the visceral fat compartment in POP dynamics.

Conclusions: Our findings further sustain the theory that exposure to environmentally relevant levels of POPs may exert both a diabetogenic and obesogenic effect.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01778868.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adiposity / drug effects*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Composition
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Pesticides / blood
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Subcutaneous Fat / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pesticides
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Glucose

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01778868