Elevated Levels of Organochlorine Pesticides in South Asian Immigrants Are Associated With an Increased Risk of Diabetes

J Endocr Soc. 2018 May 22;2(8):832-841. doi: 10.1210/js.2017-00480. eCollection 2018 Aug 1.


Objective: Rates of diabetes mellitus are higher in South Asians than in other populations and persist after migration. One unexplored cause may be higher exposure to persistent organic pollutants associated with diabetes in other populations. We compared organochlorine (OC) pesticide concentrations in South Asian immigrants and European whites to determine whether the disease was positively associated with OC pesticides in South Asians.

Research design and methods: South Asians of Tamil or Telugu descent (n = 120) and European whites (n = 72) were recruited into the London Life Sciences Population Study cohort. Blood samples as well as biometric, clinical, and survey data were collected. Plasma levels of p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), p,p'- dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, β-hexachlorohexane (HCH), and polychlorinated biphenyl-118 were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. South Asian cases and controls were categorized by binary exposure (above vs below the 50th percentile) to perform logistic regression.

Results: Tamils had approximately threefold to ninefold higher levels of OC pesticides, and Telugus had ninefold to 30-fold higher levels compared with European whites. The odds of exposure to p,p'-DDE above the 50th percentile was significantly greater in South Asian diabetes cases than in controls (OR: 7.00; 95% CI: 2.22, 22.06). The odds of exposure to β-HCH above the 50th percentile was significantly greater in the Tamil cases than in controls (OR: 9.35; 95% CI: 2.43, 35.97).

Conclusions: South Asian immigrants have a higher body burden of OC pesticides than European whites. Diabetes mellitus is associated with higher p,p'-DDE and β-HCH concentrations in this population. Additional longitudinal studies of South Asian populations should be performed.

Keywords: India; Sri Lanka; dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE); dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT); hexachlorohexane; persistent organic pollutants.