Can Air Pollution Cause Diabetes? Yes, Say Scientists

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A new study has established a link between air pollution and diabetes – 3.2 million new diabetes cases in 2016 were attributed to foul air.

As if India weren’t already reeling under the epidemic of diabetes, a new study undertaken by Washington University in USA claims that one out of every seven new cases of diabetes in 2016 was caused due to air pollution. It estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases (14% of the total) globally in 2016.

“There’s an undeniable relationship between diabetes and particle air pollution levels well below the current safe standards,” said senior study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Washington University. “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.”

In the study, the team analysed data from more than one million participants who did not have any history of diabetes. They were followed for a median of eight and a half years.

To evaluate outdoor air pollution, the researchers looked at particulate matter, airborne microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets. Previous studies have found that such particles can enter the lungs and invade the bloodstream, which may lead to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and kidney disease.

In case of diabetes, pollution is thought to reduce insulin production and trigger inflammation, preventing the body from converting blood glucose into energy that the body needs to maintain health. Pollutants such as suspended particulate matter PM2.5 contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Type 2 diabetes is usually considered a lifestyle disease – although genetics plays a role people are told they can control its onset to an extent by modifying weight and diet and taking to exercise. However, according to The Lancet Planetary Health Study, just the air you breathe, even at levels deemed safe by WHO and other international bodies, can be reason for you to develop the disease. This means that even those who follow a healthy lifestyle could be at risk for diabetes simply based on where they live.

Fourteen of the world’s topmost 20 polluted cities are in India, with the capital city of Delhi (population 16.8 million) being one of them.

The country is already dealing with a fast-rising incidence of diabetes. The Indian Council of Medical Research found that prevalence had increased by 64% in the past 25 years.

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