a round-up on pesticides

A “Roundup” on Pesticides

In the last 10 years, researchers have been expanding their knowledge about the mechanisms of pancreatic beta-cell (or β-cell) damage. There has been an increased focus on the interaction between environmental agents and pancreatic β-cells; specifically, the use of pesticides in agricultural practices.

But what’s the harm?

Pesticides are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). It has been found that EDCs may affect the development and the function of the immune system or β-cells, increasing the susceptibility of an autoimmune disease, like T1D. 

  • Research has shown that these pesticides may disrupt β-cell function:
    • Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the United States, commonly known as Roundup. Glyphosate-based herbicides may lead to endocrine disruption by altering systems in the body controlled by hormones. They can also cause an imbalance of gut bacteria by killing beneficial bacteria and causing an overgrowth of pathogens
    • Malathion is a pesticide that has been linked to metabolic disorders due to an increase of intracellular Ca+2 in β-cells, which could cause a loss of Ca+2  function involved in the regulation of insulin secretion.
    • Diazinon is associated with damage to glucose uptake and insulin secretion and exposure may reduce insulin production by β-cells.

The importance: Crops genetically modified (GM) to tolerate herbicides have led to the increased use of herbicides in order to improve crop yields. This leads to increased exposure to chemicals that damage β-cells, which are responsible for the production, storage and release of insulin. Insulin production is needed for the function of metabolism control, so if β-cells are destroyed, so is metabolism, therefore, increasing the risk of potential diabetes onset in susceptible individuals. 

Smell a Rat? 

A 2016 study investigated the role of GM corn intake in relation to morphofunctional modifications in the pancreatic acinar cells and β-cells of albino rats. 

  • The GM corn used in the study was modified to be tolerant to the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). 
  • The researchers found that the β-cell of rats fed with GM corn resulted in oxidative stress, playing a key role in insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction.
  • β-cells of rats fed with GM corn also resulted in a decreased number of secretory granules and dilation of the rER.

Looking Ahead: Collectively, this information provides evidence associating pesticide exposure and toxicity to pancreatic β-cells, but further studies are needed for an accurate conclusion of the systems involved.