Although the increased incidence of type 2 diabetes since the 1950s is thought to be primarily due to coincident alterations in lifestyle factors, another potential contributing factor in industrialized countries is exposure of the population to environmental pollutants and industrial chemicals. Exposure levels of many environmental toxicants have risen in the same time-frame as the disease incidence. Of particular interest in this regard is the metal lead. Although overall lead exposure levels have diminished in recent decades, there is an under-recognized but persistent occurrence of lead exposure in poor underserved urban populations. Although the neural developmental pathologies induced by lead exposures have been well documented, very little is known about the effect of lead exposure on the incidence of chronic metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Although our understanding of the metabolic health effects of lead exposure is incomplete, there are studies in model systems and a small amount of epidemiological data that together suggest a deleterious effect of environmental lead exposure on metabolic health. This article reviews the human, animal and in vitro studies that have examined the effects of lead exposure on the development of diabetes and related metabolic conditions.
Keywords: diabetes; lead (Pb); rodent models.