Arsenic and Diabetes: Assessing Risk at Low-to-Moderate Exposures
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic through drinking water and food is known to cause skin lesions and carry an elevated risk of cancer, among other health effects. There is also evidence that high levels of exposure might increase an individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes. The connection is less clear at the low-to-moderate arsenic levels common in groundwater across the United States, but a prospective study in Environmental Health Perspectives takes a step toward clarifying the relationship.
Once ingested, inorganic arsenic is metabolized into various organic compounds, including monomethylarsenate (MMA) and dimethylarsinate (DMA). The proportions of inorganic arsenic, MMA, and DMA in an individual’s urine can tell researchers something of the individual’s risk for certain diseases. The presence of a high percentage of MMA (indicating lower methylation capacity) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, skin and bladder cancers, and the skin lesions that characterize highly exposed individuals, whereas a high percentage of DMA (indicating greater methylation capacity) has been associated with increased risk of diabetes.
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