Can your risk of diabetes increase due to exposure to airborne particles of dust, dirt, and smoke? A new report warned that outdoor air pollution may be a significant contributor to diabetes cases around the world.
The risk does not dissipate, researchers warned, even if the pollution is at levels deemed “safe” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The study titled “The 2016 global and national burden of diabetes mellitus attributable to PM2·5 air pollution” was published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health on June 29.
“Our research shows a significant link between air pollution and diabetes globally,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, senior author and an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University.
He noted how even low levels of air pollution (i.e. considered to be safe levels by the EPA and WHO) could contribute to an increased risk. “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.”
According to previous research, airborne particles — including particulate matter, airborne microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot, and liquid droplets — can enter and spread through the bloodstream and the lungs. At high levels, this can affect the functioning of organs like the heart and kidney.
“Ten or 15 years ago, we thought that air pollution caused pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis and not much more than that,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
“We now know that air pollution is a very important cause of heart disease and stroke and contributes to chronic lung disease, lung cancer, and chronic kidney disease.”
Studies from recent years suggested pollution could reduce insulin production and trigger inflammation in the body. This can affect the conversion of blood glucose into energy which may ultimately increase the risk of diabetes.
While previous studies have attempted to link the disease to air pollution, the new paper gathered data and quantified the global burden. On a global scale, air pollution was estimated to have contributed to 14 percent of all new diabetes cases in 2016, which would mean around 3.2 million new diabetes cases that year.
Lower-income nations like India face a particular risk because of fewer resources for creating and maintaining clean-air policies. Poverty-stricken nations (such as Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, and Guyana) also faced the higher risk. Wealthier countries (such as France, Finland, and Iceland) faced a low risk, and the United States faced a moderate risk.
Among Americans, 150,000 new cases of diabetes per year were attributed to air pollution while an estimated 350,000 years of healthy life were lost annually.
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