We studied diabetes mellitus and glucose and insulin levels in Air Force veterans exposed to Agent Orange and its contaminant, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (dioxin), during the Vietnam War. The index subjects of the Air Force's ongoing 20-year prospective epidemiologic study are veterans of Operation Ranch Hand (N = 989), the unit responsible for aerial herbicide spraying in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. Other Air Force veterans who served in Southeast Asia during the same period but were not involved with spraying herbicides serve as Comparisons (N = 1,276). The median serum dioxin level in the Ranch Hand group was 12.2 parts per trillion (ppt) (range = 0–617.8 ppt), and the median dioxin level in the Comparison group was 4.0 ppt (range = 0–10 ppt). We found that glucose abnormalities [relative risk = 1.4; 95% confidence limits (CL) = 1.1, 1.8], diabetes prevalence (relative risk = 1.5; 95% CL = 1.2, 2.0), and the use of oral medications to control diabetes (relative risk = 2.3; 95% CL = 1.3, 3.9) increased, whereas time-to-diabetes-onset decreased with dioxin exposure. Serum insulin abnormalities (relative risk = 3.4; 95% CL = 1.9, 6.1) increased with dioxin exposure in nondiabetics. These results indicate an adverse relation between dioxin exposure and diabetes mellitus, glucose metabolism, and insulin production.
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