Common insecticides might create higher risk for diabetes and metabolic diseases

Credit: Raj Rajnarayanan, UB.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo has shed light on the potential adverse effects of synthetic chemicals commonly found in insecticides and garden products.

The research suggests that these chemicals can bind to receptors that regulate our biological clocks, which may increase the risk of developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

This discovery emphasizes the importance of assessing environmental chemicals for their potential to disrupt our circadian rhythms, a factor that is currently overlooked by federal regulators.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, utilized a combination of computer modeling and wet-laboratory experiments on millions of chemicals.

The researchers focused on two specific chemicals: carbaryl, the third most widely used insecticide in the U.S. (although illegal in some countries), and carbofuran, the most toxic carbamate insecticide (banned for use on food crops for human consumption since 2009). Carbofuran is still utilized in certain countries, including Mexico, and traces of it persist in food, plants, and wildlife.

Disruptions in our circadian rhythms have long been associated with a higher risk of diabetes and other metabolic diseases. However, the mechanisms involved have not been well-understood until now.

The research conducted at the University at Buffalo revealed that these chemicals can interfere with melatonin receptor signaling, leading to imbalances in crucial physiological processes.

The scientists at UB are developing a rapid bioassay to evaluate environmental chemicals for their potential to disrupt circadian activity. This bioassay aims to assess the impact of chemicals on our biological clocks more effectively. This work is part of a broader initiative by researchers at UB to develop the Chem2Risk pipeline, which combines computational biology and melatonin receptor pharmacology expertise. Their extensive database contains around four million chemicals that have been reported to possess some level of toxicity.

Using computational modeling and in vitro experiments, the researchers identified clusters of chemicals with functional groups similar to melatonin.

Among these, carbamates, including carbaryl, were found to selectively interact with melatonin receptors, leading to disruptions in melatonin signaling and important regulatory processes in the body.

Dr. Dubocovich, the lead author of the study, explained that these environmental chemicals can directly interact with melatonin receptors in the brain and peripheral tissues.

This interaction can lead to misaligned circadian rhythms, disrupted sleep patterns, and altered metabolic functions, ultimately increasing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and metabolic disorders. For instance, the delicate balance between the release of insulin and glucose in the pancreas, which occurs at specific times of the day, can be disrupted over time, heightening the risk of developing diabetes.

In conclusion, this groundbreaking research highlights the potential risks associated with exposure to synthetic chemicals commonly found in insecticides and garden products. It underscores the importance of evaluating environmental chemicals for their ability to disrupt our biological clocks.

By better understanding these mechanisms, we can work towards safeguarding our health and preventing the onset of chronic diseases.