Chemicals linked to diabetes, Alzheimer's

  • Joanne McCarthy

A substantial link has been found between deaths from diseases including Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Parkinson’s, and increased levels of nitrates in our environment and food, according to a new study.

US researchers studied the trends in mortality rates due to diseases that are associated with ageing, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cerebrovascular disease, as well as HIV.

The researchers believe that the increase in death rates from these conditions is strongly linked to increases in human exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as fertilisers.

The increase in exposure plays a critical role in the cause, development and effects of these diseases, according to the researchers.

“We have become a ‘nitrosamine’ generation. In essence, we have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. We receive increased exposure through the abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilisers for agriculture,” said Dr Suzanne de la Monte of Rhode Island Hospital, who led the research.

"Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leeching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking," she said.

Nitrites and nitrates belong to a class of chemical compounds that have been found to be harmful to humans. More than 90% of these compounds that have been tested have been determined to be carcinogenic in various organs.

They are found in many food products, including fried bacon, cured meats and cheese products, as well as beer and water. Exposure also occurs through manufacturing and processing of rubber and latex products, as well as fertilisers, pesticides and cosmetics.

The findings indicate that while nitrogen-containing fertiliser consumption increased by 230% between 1955 and 2005, its usage doubled between 1960 and 1980, which just precedes the diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s epidemics the researchers found.

"If this hypothesis is correct, potential solutions include eliminating the use of nitrites and nitrates in food processing, preservation and agriculture; taking steps to prevent the formation of nitrosamines and employing safe and effective measures to detoxify food and water before human consumption,” said Dr de la Monte.

The results of the study have been published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


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