Evidently the Vietnamese are getting an alarming rise in Diabetes, according to an article in this Sunday’s New York Times June 9, 2013, entitled,  “Prosperity in Vietnam Carries a Price: Diabetes”.  Granted, with affluence come fast food restaurants, but this is happening to thin or only mildly overweight people, by American standards. 

Why is this happening?  Let me digress a minute and address my title: “Diabetes and Persistent Organic Pollutants”

What are persistent organic pollutants (POPS)?   These are  compounds released from industrial processes such as solvents, flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), pharmaceuticals, and pesticides such as Dioxin.  They characteristically are fat soluble, persist in the environment (and the bodies of humans and other animals) for long periods of time and bioaccumlulate.  This means they get more concentrated as you go up the food chain.  We’ve all heard of chemical exposure relating to cancer and neurodegenerative problems such as Parkinson’s disease, but Diabetes? 

How do POPs relate to Diabetes? 

An article in Diabetes Care in 2006 explains that there is a striking dose response relation between serum levels of six POPs and prevalence of Diabetes. And even more amazing, there was <strong “mso-bidi-font-weight:=”” normal”=””>no association between obesity and diabetes when no POPs were detected!.  This indicates that obese or not, the real factor in the development of Diabetes is toxic chemicals persisting in the body.  No matter how obese a person gets, he don’t get Diabetes unless he has a lot of bad chemicals on board. 

This brings me back to the New York Times article referred to above.  Why are these unfortunate people in Vietnam getting Diabetes at such an alarming rate?  In my opinion, it may have a lot to do with a chemical defoliant/herbicide used in the 60s called Agent Orange. This stuff persists in the environment and bio accumulates, getting into the meat and milk.  What’s worse is that these people go barefooted a lot, according to the article, and frequent injure their  legs or feet.  With Diabetes, small injuries can end up becoming large injuries, and many people are ending up with a amputations.  Going barefoot is also a good way to accumulate more toxic substances. 


Overall, two thirds of the herbicides used during the conflict contained dioxin, a powerful persistent organic pollutant. Members of US Army corps responsible for spraying the Dioxin (Agent Orange) in Vietnam, who had higher Dioxin levels in the blood than an army cohort who did chemical spraying but did not not serve in Vietnam, had a  50 percent increased risk of diabetes, as well as a  52 percent greater heart disease risk, a 32 percent increased risk of hypertension and a 60 percent greater likelihood of having a chronic respiratory problem such as emphysema or asthma.  The study was done by Dr. Han K. Kang of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC and colleagues and was published in American Journal of Industrial Medicine,  November, 2006