What Is The Relationship Between Diabetes, Inflammation, And Environmental Toxins?

Y’all. I’ve just had a revelation. This may be old news to many people, but to me, it’s an epiphany.

Since the last time I wrote, up until three days ago, I’d been managing my blood sugar pretty well – at least, according to my own goal that I now have, which is to keep my morning fasting sugar below 120 (126 was what my doctor had suggested I keep it below to stay off medication). My blood sugar had been in basically the 115-117 range during that time. Cool, cool.

I was walking regularly, usually an hour a day. That used to be four miles for me once upon a time, now it’s three. That’s okay. My speed may improve or it may not. I’m not trying to win any awards here, just want to stay healthy. And sometimes, I only walk half of that, depending on how my knee is feeling. (I miss my bike! 😰)

My eating lately hasn’t been particularly careful – one night, I was reading a good book and didn’t want to stop to prepare food, so I just had a small hunk of cheese and a bag of microwave popcorn for dinner. I almost never do that and, LOL, it’s not something I would make a habit of, but I was relieved to see the next morning that it hadn’t impacted my blood sugar in a negative way. I’d mostly had my usual, “healthy” fare – salads with chicken, veggies with protein (chicken, turkey, and beef are what I like – unfortunately, I don’t like seafood) – and I’d also had some bread here and there, a Naan BBQ chicken pizza I make (YUM!), a little bit of ice cream, an occasional beer and chicken nachos. So, I wasn’t being super strict like I’d been before – but my blood sugar was at an acceptable level for me. This was livable! I could do this!

I also noted that I mostly hadn’t been taking any supplements (like my CALM magnesium, which I still think is a really good thing for me to take regularly). When I first did my program after I was first diagnosed, I took quite a number of supplements. When I’m doing a variety of things, it’s hard to tell which one(s) are working – or if it’s the combination of things. Do I need to keep doing all of the things? Due to my current financial circumstances, I can’t afford supplements, so I have had to take those out of the equation. (I do still use cinnamon and turmeric regularly on my foods, is the one exception.) Even without supplements, my blood sugar has (mostly) been at an acceptable level (for me). I do wonder – if I were taking them, would my sugar go even lower? Maybe even get back down under 100? Possibly?

But here’s why I’m writing today: three days ago, my housemate brought a big area rug a friend had given her into the house and had me help her unroll it in the living room. Immediately, the smell of the rug overwhelmed me – musty/moldy – I felt like I’d bitten into the air and gotten a mouthful of sand is how drastically my body reacted. I couldn’t breathe. Even when I went into my bedroom, closed the door, turned on the ionizer, and put on a filtered mask, I was still having a strong reaction to the rug. I had to go outside and sit in the fresh breeze to calm down my air passages and be able to breathe. As I sat outside, I noticed that it wasn’t just my breathing – that my neck felt tight, and my whole body felt stressed. Long story short, we got rid of the rug.

But here’s where it gets interesting. I forgot to take my reading the next morning after this happened, but yesterday morning, my blood sugar read 149 (and not just once, I tested multiple times for confirmation). I hadn’t done anything different or unusual in terms of my eating or activity. The only difference in my life had been this allergic/inflammatory response. I also noticed that my body felt bloated – my ankles and fingers were notably swollen (and that’s not usually the case). And the thing that helped me really make the connection that I noticed – is that my bladder felt painfully irritated, like I had an urge to urinate almost constantly. I’d felt that before ….

A few weeks (months?) before I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – and keep in mind that my blood sugar levels up until then had been just fine and that I’d been basically at the same weight for over 20 years – my dentist prescribed an antibiotic for a tooth infection. Then, after my root canal, the endodontist prescribed another round of that same antibiotic “just to be safe.” That antibiotic ravaged my body. I could feel it happening. The most alarming symptom was that my bladder felt like I’d been sitting in a movie theater holding it so I didn’t miss the end of the movie. You know that feeling where it just hurts and you can’t wait to run to the restroom and get relief? Only, when I was taking this antibiotic, that feeling remained – there was no relief from it – and it was becoming increasingly, unbearably painful. I saw my doctor and he told me to get off that antibiotic immediately.

I did stop taking it right away, but the side effects didn’t quickly disappear. It took time for my body to heal. At that time, I had several jobs and was working at least 60-80 hours a week, so I was running on fumes. Back then, I attributed my extreme fatigue to my work schedule, but now that I think about it, I’m sure that the effects of the antibiotic also contributed to what eventually became basically a physical breakdown. I had a few days (weeks?) where I could barely move. I had no energy. My whole body hurt. I couldn’t even think straight, I was so depleted energetically. Right after that, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, based on one routine blood test.

Here’s what I’m noticing and what I think: the feeling of irritation in my bladder these last three days is very reminiscent (not nearly as bad/painful, but I’m definitely having flashbacks) of when I was taking that antibiotic. And what I’m thinking is that in both cases, where my blood sugar was driven higher, it’s that my body was (is) in an inflammatory response – in once case to a medication, and in this case, a severe allergic response to an environmental toxin (mold or whatever else was in that rug).

Now, through my studying over the years (I used to own a health food store almost 30 years ago for 8 years and I’ve studied nutrition basically my whole life), I know that there are foods that can create an inflammatory response in the body. Sometimes people are allergic to specific foods, which can create a range of inflammatory responses – up to and including death. There are some foods (perhaps? – I’m not sure?) that tend to cause at least a small inflammatory response for most everybody (why are antacids so popular?). I’ve thought of these foods as being at the root of many disease processes in the body, including arthritis and digestive issues and who knows what else?

My point is this: in my case (not speaking for anyone other than myself), it seems to me that inflammatory processes caused by medication and by environmental toxins, had far more to do with my “diabetes” than anything to do with my food or activity or lifestyle choices. I’ve always had an awareness that my diagnosis had nothing to do with my weight. I’ve been a healthy, active fat person for decades. No problems with my blood sugar until I had that dangerous antibiotic (and yes, once I researched it, I saw that it had harmed LOTS of people, that it’s considered a “black box” antibiotic – and I’m so angry that I took it!). My recovery also had nothing to do with my weight – I was back to normal blood sugar fairly quickly, without any significant weight loss. It just took a little time to get the antibiotic and its effects fully out of my system – and it’s possible that I helped that process move along more quickly by the program that I was doing.

Now, I am acknowledging that doing a program that avoided foods that could potentially cause some inflammation in my body did help my blood sugar to go down – and that at the time, that was necessary because my body had been put into a crisis of inflammatory overload by the medication. But what I’d like to argue is that if my body hadn’t been in an inflammatory crisis caused by the medication, I would not have had my blood sugar spin out of control and would not have gotten a diabetes diagnosis. It just pushed me over the limit of what my body could handle, so then I had to be extremely careful not to introduce any more factors which could cause inflammation into my body (therefore, had to be careful about what I ate, whereas before I hadn’t needed to be so careful – and when I’m not in a toxin-induced crisis, I’m not sure that I ever need to be so careful).

What I’m going through now is similar. My blood sugar was down to 131 this morning. I expect at this trajectory, it will be below 120 again tomorrow. I had a chicken sandwich last night for dinner – something I wouldn’t have done right after my diagnosis. I can eat bread without a negative impact on my blood sugar. I think I can probably eat pretty much anything in moderation (which I would have been afraid to even consider before, when I was panicking about my diagnosis and how to return to wellness). I am still suffering some of the effects of the histamine coursing through my body from my allergic reaction to that rug. I imagine that my body will work through that in the next week or so and I’ll be feeling good again and my blood sugar will normalize.

So, now I’m thinking about how to live my best, happiest life, keeping my inflammatory load as low as possible. I’ve been sensitive to chemicals for years – I had a bad experience with a “100% natural, completely safe” shower cleaner a few years ago, which resulted in a lung injury that had me on inhalers and breathing treatments for months. That left me very sensitive to scents and sprays to a degree that I still have to be careful and carry an inhaler in case of exposure. I can be taken down by someone spraying air freshener. Yes, I do have an awareness of what foods could impact me in ways that may cause inflammation – but honestly, I think foods may be among the least of my problems. I haven’t drank soda and I’ve avoided corn syrup in general since 2006. I avoid artificial flavors and colors as much as possible. So, I’m not exactly incautious in my food choices – I think it’s fair to say that I’m mindful about what I eat. Chemicals on/in foods are more concerning to me than the foods themselves. But environmental toxins in general are where my greater concern lies – and where I certainly intend to pay more attention.

How much does what we eat really have to do with our blood sugar levels? I wonder!

As I look back to when I started this blog, when my blood sugar had gotten out of my desired range for the first time since my diagnosis, what I realize is that we had literally just moved into a new house (new to us, really an older house). We’d been cleaning – I was using mostly vinegar, but also had used some disinfectant wipes, figuring I was “safe” because I wasn’t spraying anything into the air (which can be very dangerous for me). Now I wonder, what if the chemicals from those wipes were absorbed through my fingers – and that is what drove my blood sugar up? I’m just speculating here, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I’m going to keep paying attention and sharing what I notice. I’d be very interested if anyone else has had similar experiences/observations that you’d like to share in the comments!

I have some more questions and things I’m wondering about. First of all, I’m not 100% sure about my diabetes type 2 diagnosis. I realize that my blood sugar goes to high levels when I’ve been exposed to dangerous medications or environmental toxins – but otherwise? I’m not sure. Maybe without those stressors, it’s normal? That’s got me wondering if it’s at all possible that many people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are not necessarily finding themselves in that position due to genetics or lifestyle – but rather due to environmental factors. Think about it. Demographically speaking, African Americans and other people of color are more prone to a diabetes diagnosis than white Americans – and, due to systemic racism, are also more likely to live in communities where pollutants, dangerous chemicals, and other environmental toxins are more prevalent. Pete Buttigieg just recently talked about how urban highways were traditionally built through Black communities. Think about all of the pollution put into the air by traffic – and then consider the inflammatory response and toxic load which that could create for the people who live in communities afflicted with that kind of air and/or other environmental pollution.

Look at Tampa, Florida right now, where a holding reservoir containing radioactive waste from a phosphate mining company called Piney Point has leaked millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater into Tampa Bay and surrounding communities and water systems. This company has been polluting the air, soil, and water in the nearby communities for decades. This is just the latest, most devastating and publicly recognized environmental disaster this company has caused. What effect will the current disaster have on the people who live in that area? Will “diabetes” rates rise? Along with various cancers and other autoimmune disorders? Is anyone paying attention to that? Someone should definitely be tracking this sort of thing!

Also – we should be making sure to prevent this sort of thing! We need much stronger environmental protection laws – and enforcement of those laws! And perhaps instead of constantly focusing on developing more drugs – and even focusing quite so much on “healthy eating” and activity – we should be thinking more about how to clean up and protect the environment – and support people’s natural health in that way. I think it’s possible that the solution is not in medication, or even so much in “lifestyle” choices – but rather in environmental protections and preventing toxic conditions which can cause inflammatory responses in the human body. As the saying goes, “What happens to the water, happens to the people.” I think we need to think a whole lot more about that.

Disclaimer: Please be advised that I am not a medical professional nor a dietician. This site is not in any way, shape, or form providing any sort of diagnosis, advice, cures, or recommendations for medical or dietary treatments. I am simply sharing my own journey and experiences. Nothing I say is intended to replace proper medical care.

Published by freekat2

I'm choosing as much as I can to be curious rather than afraid, to be open and willing to learn, to express myself as authentically and vulnerably as I can manage in any given moment, and to enjoy this journey of life.

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