Arsenic, one carbon metabolism and diabetes-related outcomes in the Strong Heart Family Study

Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):728-740. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.09.048. Epub 2018 Oct 12.


Background: Inorganic arsenic exposure and inter-individual differences in its metabolism have been associated with cardiometabolic risk. A more efficient arsenic metabolism profile (lower MMA%, higher DMA%) has been associated with reduced risk for arsenic-related health outcomes; however, this profile has also been associated with increased risk for diabetes-related outcomes. The mechanism behind these contrasting associations is equivocal; we hypothesized one carbon metabolism (OCM) may play a role.

Methods: We evaluated the association between OCM-related variables (nutrient intake and genetic variants) and both arsenic metabolism biomarkers (iAs%, MMA% and DMA%) and diabetes-related outcomes (metabolic syndrome, diabetes, HOMA2-IR and waist circumference) in 935 participants free of prevalent diabetes and metabolic syndrome from the Strong Heart Family Study, a family-based prospective cohort comprised of American Indian tribal members aged 14+ years.

Results: Of the 935 participants free of both diabetes and metabolic syndrome at baseline, 279 (29.8%) developed metabolic syndrome over a median of 5.3 years of follow-up and of the 1458 participants free of diabetes at baseline, 167 (11.3%) developed diabetes over follow-up. OCM nutrients were not associated with arsenic metabolism, however, higher vitamin B6 was associated with diabetes-related outcomes (higher HOMA2-IR and increased risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome). A polymorphism in an OCM-related gene, methionine synthase (MTR), was associated with both higher MMA% (β = 2.57, 95% CI: 0.22, 4.92) and lower HOMA2-IR (GMR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.66, 0.93 per 5 years of follow-up). Adjustment for OCM variables did not affect previously reported associations between arsenic metabolism and diabetes-related outcomes; however, the association between the MTR variant and diabetes-related outcomes were attenuated after adjustment for arsenic metabolism.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest MMA% may be a partial mediator in the association between OCM and diabetes-related outcomes. Additional mediation analyses with longer follow-up period are needed to confirm this finding. Further research is needed to determine whether excess B vitamin intake is associated with increased risk for diabetes-related outcomes.

Keywords: American Indians; Arsenic; Arsenic metabolism; Diabetes; Metabolic syndrome; One carbon metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arsenic / adverse effects*
  • Arsenicals / adverse effects*
  • Biomarkers
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / chemically induced
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Indians, North American
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Arsenicals
  • Biomarkers
  • Carbon
  • Arsenic