A study by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System links outdoor pollution -- even levels that are considered safe -- to an increased risk of diabetes worldwide.
The researchers evaluated outdoor air pollution by looking at particulate matter -- airborne microscopic pieces of dust, soot, smoke, and even liquid droplets. Particulate matter is known to enter the lungs and invade the bloodstream, which can contribute to major health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer.
In diabetics, pollution is said to induce inflammation and reduce insulin production, preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy for the body to use.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the impact of pollution on a group of American veterans with no previous history of diabetes, studying them for 8.5 years. The team used various models which they tested against other parameters like ambient air sodium concentrations and lower limb fractures.
The researchers estimated that air pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases worldwide in 2016, which is equivalent to about 14 percent of all new diabetes cases worldwide for that year. Moreover, they estimated that 8.2 million years of healthy life -- also referred to as “disability-adjusted life years” -- were lost in 2016 due to pollution-linked diabetes, which is equivalent to 14 percent of all years of healthy life lost due to diabetes from any cause.
"Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University. “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 World Health Organization (WHO)."
"Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened," added Al-Aly.
The findings suggest that reducing pollution may lead to a decrease in diabetes cases in heavily polluted countries like India, as well as less polluted ones like the U.S. (Related: Improving air quality can cut your risk for diabetes.)
Diabetes affects 30 million Americans and more than 420 million people globally. While the key drivers of this disease are unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits and obesity, growing evidence indicates the extent to which outdoor air pollution plays a role.
Seemingly ordinary tasks like using the heater or air conditioner, using products to style our hair or clean the house, or even driving to school or work, all contribute to the growing problem of air pollution. The following tips are just some of the things we can do to help reduce air pollution, and consequently, reduce the risk for other health conditions like diabetes.
Learn of more ways you can help reduce air pollution by going to Pollution.news.