Link Suggested Between Water Acidity, Diabetes
September 06, 2002 02:59:07 PM PST, Reuters
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A preliminary investigation from Norway suggests a possible link between acidic drinking water and type 1 diabetes.

Children who consumed water with a pH between 6.2 and 6.9 were 3.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, compared to children drinking less acidic water, lead author Dr. Lars C. Stene and colleagues report in the September issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

The pH scale is used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A pH of 7, which is normal for water, is considered neutral. Values below 7 denote acidity. The lower the number, the stronger the acid.

However, the authors write, "Acid water in itself is unlikely to be causally related to type 1 diabetes, but may be a marker of some other factor."

Perhaps, they speculate, the association could have something to do with minerals in the water that are leached out of soil or plumbing fixtures due to the water's acidity. On the other hand, more acidic water may provide an environment for bacteria or viruses to grow, which could in turn trigger diabetes.

But further analysis found no association between drinking water's mineral content and diabetes. The researchers did not analyze the water for the presence of microorganisms.

Stene, who is with Aker and Ulleval University Hospitals in Oslo, and his team evaluated tap water samples from the homes of 64 children with type 1 diabetes and 250 healthy children.

"Although there are many possible sources of error, these results suggest the possibility that quality of drinking water influences the risk of type 1 diabetes," the authors write.

"I think (the researchers) have identified an interesting association, but it is clearly not the acidity of the water that's causing diabetes," said Dr. Gene Barrett, president-elect of the American Diabetes Association, who commented on the study in an interview with Reuters Health.

Barrett pointed out the amount of acidity that people get from drinking water is trivial compared to acidity in other foods and beverages.

"It appears that even the authors of the study would have a hard time saying that there is a relationship between how acidic the water is and something causing diabetes," said Barrett, who is with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

"When you encounter a study like this, the next step is to see whether you find the same association in another independent sample of people. If you do, then maybe there is something real to it, and if you don't, then maybe the initial findings were an anomaly."

While he finds the link interesting, Barrett said, it is "by no means a major step toward identifying" what causes diabetes.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system launches a misguided attack against pancreatic cells called beta cells, which produce insulin. This leads to low or nonexistent levels of the sugar-regulating hormone. People with this type of diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive.

SOURCE: Diabetes Care 2002;25:1534-1538.