Scientists Discover Strong Link between Air Pollution and Diabetes

A new study revealed a major connection between diabetes and air pollution levels. The research which was intended to estimate the damaging effects of poor air quality, concluded will help to shape future guidelines.

Air pollution and diabetes are responsible for millions of death worldwide, affecting mostly low-income cities. Air pollution can lead to stroke, lung cancer, respiratory infection, and heart disease, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

The air quality database, updated in 2018, indicates that more than 80 percent of people who live in urban areas inhale air that does not meet the WHO recommendations.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the body is unable to produce the hormone insulin, causing an upsurge in blood sugar levels. Diabetes can be treated, but complications can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke.

Data from the WHO show that in 2014, 8.5 percent of adults developed diabetes, and that in 2015, this health condition resulted in 1.6 million deaths.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO — in collaboration with the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri, discovered a strong link between air pollution and diabetes.

This could help to bring new awareness of the dangerous effects of poor air quality. The study was published recently in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The team of researchers examined the impact of pollution on a group of United States veterans with no previous history of diabetes.

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The research team observed the participants for a median of 8.5 years, using different models, which they tested against other parameters, such as ambient air sodium concentrations and lower limb fractures.

The scientists used the additional variables which are not linked with diabetes or air pollution to eliminate the likelihoods of measuring a false link.

The researchers assessed that, air pollution contributed to around 3.2 million cases of diabetes and the loss of 8.2 million years of healthy life globally in 2016. This last figure represents about “14 percent of all years of healthy life lost due to diabetes” due to all causes.

Senior author, Dr Ziyad Al-Aly said;

“Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally. We found an increased risk, even at low levels of air pollution currently considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the WHO.”

“This is important because many industry lobbying groups argue that current levels are too stringent and should be relaxed. Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened.”

How does pollution lead to diabetes?

The exact device behind the association between air pollution and diabetes has not yet been established. However, researchers know that some pollutants can enter the bloodstream and interact with tissues and organs once inhaled.  These interactions ultimately unsettle the body, and may alter insulin sensitivity and production.

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The risk of pollution-related diabetes is higher in lower-income countries that lack clean air policies, such as China, India, and Indonesia, while more wealthy countries, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have a lower risk.

The study results suggest that the risk of diabetes rises dramatically between the lowest possible exposure levels and the EPA guidelines for air quality standards.


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