BACKGROUND: The insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) has been used for malaria vector control in the northern and eastern parts of the Vhembe District of Limpopo Province, South Africa, since 1945. Bioaccumulation of DDT raises concern because it reportedly affects thyroid function.
OBJECTIVE: Our objective was to investigate the association between DDT uptake (as reflected in plasma concentrations) and thyroid homeostasis while considering related factors.
METHODS: We compared dietary intake, serum retinol-binding protein (RBP), transthyretin (TTR) and albumin concentrations, and liver and thyroid function between cases with evidence of a body burden of DDT in the circulation (concentration of any DDT isomer ≥ 0.02 μg/g lipid; n = 278) and controls (concentration of all DDT isomers < 0.02 μg/g lipid; n = 40) in a cross-sectional study. Further analyses were performed to assess the relevance of changes in RBP status associated with DDT uptake.
RESULTS: RBP concentrations below the reference range were more prevalent in cases (54% vs. 10% in controls; χ2 = 27.4; p < 0.001), which could not be explained by nutrient intake. We observed significantly lower thyroid hormone concentrations among cases (p ≤ 0.01). We also observed a significant linear trend for serum concentrations of free thyroxine and free triiodothyronine (p < 0.001) and a significant quadratic trend for serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (p = 0.025) and TTR (p < 0.001) across the control group and case groups with normal and relatively low RBP concentrations. Relatively low RBP concentrations were associated with significantly higher DDT and 1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl) ethylene (DDE) isomer concentrations and with a higher DDE/DDT ratio (p ≤ 0.01), which signifies long-term exposure. Inadequate intake of vitamin A and zinc were observed in 84% and 58%, respectively, of the total study population.
CONCLUSION: RBP concentrations appear to decrease in the presence of long-term DDT uptake, which may have deleterious effects on thyroid function and vitamin A nutritional status. This is of major concern in a population with poor vitamin A and zinc intake.