Study Finds Link Between Air Pollution and Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Air pollution has long been known to adversely impact respiratory and cardiac health. But new research is finding increasing evidence for potentially far-reaching implications for a variety of other medical conditions as well. One such study has just come to light, discovering a link between air pollution and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

A team of scientists led by Dr. Fernando Holguin at the University of Colorado have now studied a large population of patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, finding evidence of a correlation between airborne pollutants and diabetes development. Their “findings add to the growing body of evidence that has demonstrated an association between long-term exposure to air pollution and type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Holguin said.

The Impact of Air Pollution

Air pollution is comprised of a mix of chemicals, toxins, ozone, and other particles. It can come from both mobile and stationary sources, such as industrial and vehicular emissions, as well as dust and allergens. The size and composition of each type of particle has been associated with various health problems, from more severe irritations of existing conditions to more severe illnesses like cancer and coronary disease.

In terms of its effects on diabetes, researchers believe exposure to air pollution can cause “metabolic abnormalities” and trigger hormones that regulate insulin sensitivity, which in turn can influence diabetes development.

Study Details

As part of their study, the team of researchers conducted an analysis of electronic health records from over 130,000 patients over an average of seven years. This included information on each patient’s exposure to air pollutants, as well as data on their demographic and lifestyle factors (including lifestyle habits, social and economic factors, etc.).

The results of the study found that long-term exposure to high levels of the particles most commonly associated with air pollution – namely, particulate matter (PM 2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes over time.

Risk Factors

In addition to air pollution, some other risk factors have been identified as potential triggers of type 2 diabetes. These include:

• Genetics: Genes play a role in the development of diabetes. If family members have type 2 diabetes, then someone’s risk of developing the condition can be higher.

• Age: As age increases, a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes is also greater.

• Obesity: Being overweight can cause the body to become resistant to insulin, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

• Diet: A diet high in unhealthy fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods can increase diabetes risk.

• Physical Activity: Regular exercise helps keep the body healthy and helps with weight maintenance.

• Ethnicity: Certain ethnicities – including those of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent – have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Prevention Strategies

Now that there is evidence to suggest air pollution is an additional risk factor for type 2 diabetes, there are steps people can take to reduce their exposure. However, these are not solely preventative measures, as air pollution has multiple adverse health effects.

Here are five measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and protect against other illnesses associated with air pollution:

  1. Monitor Air Quality: Seek out sources of information to stay up to date with local air quality indices and alerts.

  2. Stay Inside: If air pollution levels are high, it’s best to stay indoors and keep windows closed.

  3. Wear a Mask Outdoors: Masks can reduce the amount of pollution inhaled.

  4. Use the Car Less: Whenever possible, opt for public transportation or take a bicycle or walk – both of these reduce the amount of pollution put into the air.

  5. Plant an Air Purifying Garden: Certain plants can filter out pollutants from the air as well as adding a calming effect to the home.

Researchers have recently found a correlation between air pollution and an increased risk of diabetes. This adds to the already known harmful effects air pollution has on respiratory and cardiac health, and further confirms the need for concerted efforts to reduce and contain air pollution levels. In addition to air pollution, other risk factors include genetics, age, obesity, diet, physical activity, and ethnicity, and a variety of preventative measures can be taken to reduce exposure to pollutants and lessen the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It is imperative that we act on these revelations with urgency, in order to protect our health and our environment.