A Possible Link Between Agent Orange and Diabetes

Kozzi-female-hands-and-manicure-related-objects-441-X-294A code name for herbicides used by the U.S. military as a part of its Operation Ranch Hand program during the Vietnam War, Agent Orange killed roughly 400,000 people and caused many children in Vietnam to be born with birth defects. An estimated 1 million people are disabled because of the issues that result from the use of Agent Orange. In the 1970s, some veterans of the war were extremely concerned over being exposed to the herbicide. While herbicides themselves do not have an effect on animals, a particular contaminant in Agent Orange, known as dioxin, has been the focus of many researchers and the main source of significant mortality rates in Vietnam, and the development of various maladies in veterans.

Studies have shown that dioxin can lead to many different illnesses, such as cancer, and there is evidence to suggest a link between diabetes and Agent Orange. Diabetes develops when the body either is not generating enough insulin or is resisting the insulin it is creating. While the link between Agent Orange and diabetes is modest at best, studies have shown that significant exposure to herbicides such as dioxin has led to an increase in insulin resistance.

In November of 2000, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that veterans with Type 2 diabetes would be eligible for compensation due to being exposed to Agent Orange. Reports from then-acting Secretary Hershel Gober showed that Type 2 diabetes present in veterans might have been caused by dioxin exposure from Agent Orange. A chronic disease in itself, diabetes mellitus affects about 16 million people, and about 5.4% of those do not know they have the disease.

Despite the implications of the link between Agent Orange and diabetes, there has, and continues to be, much debate regarding whether Agent Orange causes diabetes. Media speculation as well as studies and reports have displayed that many claims that Agent Orange does indeed cause diabetes are strong, but other evidence, such as diet, is also a factor in whether one develops diabetes or not. Dioxin, the compound found within Agent Orange, is the primary undercurrent that links diabetes with the program. Reports of the link between Agent Orange and diabetes have shown that the dioxin is stored in the fat of the body and is used by the body over a period of time, thus making the link even harder to establish given the time lapse between exposure and development of the disease. Since the Department of Veterans Affairs now pays compensation to veterans who develop Agent Orange-linked diseases, it can be reasonably suggested that high levels of dioxin in the blood has led to a significant rise in diabetes among those who fought in the Vietnam War.

Even with the evidence in 2000, and follow-up reports in 2002 and 2004, that said Agent Orange did cause diabetes, there is still not a reasonable amount of literature and research on the link itself. Researchers often note other factors such as family history, genetics and lifestyle as the reasons for veterans developing diabetes.

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