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Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 2011 Sep;27(9):402-10. doi: 10.1016/j.kjms.2011.05.008. Epub 2011 Jul 6.

Arsenic and diabetes: current perspectives.

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School of Chinese Medicine, College of Chinese Medicine, China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan.


Arsenic is a naturally occurring toxic metalloid of global concern. Many studies have indicated a dose-response relationship between accumulative arsenic exposure and the prevalence of diabetes mellitus (DM) in arseniasis-endemic areas in Taiwan and Bangladesh, where arsenic exposure occurs through drinking water. Epidemiological researches have suggested that the characteristics of arsenic-induced DM observed in arseniasis-endemic areas in Taiwan and Mexico are similar to those of non-insulin-dependent DM (Type 2 DM). These studies analyzed the association between high and chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic in drinking water and the development of DM, but the effect of exposure to low to moderate levels of inorganic arsenic on the risk of DM is unclear. Navas-Acien et al. recently proposed that a positive association existed between total urine arsenic and the prevalence of Type 2 DM in people exposed to low to moderate levels of arsenic. However, the diabetogenic role played by arsenic is still debated upon. An increase in the prevalence of DM has been observed among residents of highly arsenic-contaminated areas, whereas the findings from community-based and occupational studies in low-arsenic-exposure areas have been inconsistent. Recently, a population-based cross-sectional study showed that the current findings did not support an association between arsenic exposure from drinking water at levels less than 300 μg/L and a significantly increased risk of DM. Moreover, although the precise mechanisms for the arsenic-induced diabetogenic effect are still largely undefined, recent in vitro experimental studies indicated that inorganic arsenic or its metabolites impair insulin-dependent glucose uptake or glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Nevertheless, the dose, the form of arsenic used, and the experimental duration in the in vivo studies varied greatly, leading to conflicting results and ambiguous interpretation of these data with respect to human exposure to arsenic in the environment. Moreover, the experimental studies were limited to the use of arsenic concentrations much higher than those relevant to human exposure. Further prospective epidemiological studies might help to clarify this controversy. The issues about environmental exposure assessment and appropriate biomarkers should also be considered. Here, we focus on the review of mechanism studies and discuss the currently available evidence and conditions for the association between environmental arsenic exposure and the development of DM.

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