A new study study suggests that air pollution is responsible for 3.2 million cases per year of type II diabetes.
Study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of Washington University and the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in Missouri said it is estimated that about 14 percent of diabetes in the world occurs because of air pollution and that is one in seven cases.
In a phone interview with Reuters Health, the doctor added that risks exist at levels that are below what’s at this time considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US and also by the World Health Organization.
A study team wrote that in The Lancet Planetary Health the tiniest form of particulate matter pollution is already associated with increased risk of heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, and other noncommunicable diseases that contributed to about 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015.
Al-Aly added that there is new evidence over the past several years that particulates, if small enough, make their way to the lungs and blood vessels. They go to the liver, the pancreas, the kidneys. These particles are noxious and they irritate and damage tissue creating oxidative stress and creating inflammation.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and aging and occurs when the pancreas can’t make or process enough of the hormone insulin.
In order to look for a link between air pollution and type 2 diabetes, researchers analyzed data on 1.7 million US veterans without diabetes and comparing levels where they lived to their risk of being newly diagnosed with the disease during the next eight and a half years, on average. The researchers separated out the independent effect of air pollution by taking other diabetes risk factors, like obesity into account.
Risk of diabetes started to rise when pollution levels were high.
Dr. Al-Aly and his colleagues also looked at worldwide levels to estimate the amount of diabetes due to air pollution. About 3.2 million new cases of diabetes were attributable to breathing dirty air. Low-income and low-to-middle income countries bore the largest burden of air pollution-related diabetes.
While air in the U.S. is relatively clean compared to smog-choked parts of China, India and elsewhere, Al-Aly said, “we need to do better.”
He called for moving to “energy sources that contribute much less to pollution, more electric cars, more hybrid cars, more solar power and wind sources of energy rather than coal. It’s already happening, but probably not fast enough.”
Dr. Gary O’Donovan of the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, and Dr. Carlos Cadena-Gaitan of the Universidad EAFIT in Medellin note that it is possible to cut air pollution while promoting exercise with programs like Bogota’s Cyclovia in which city roads are closed to motor vehicles on weekends to make room for walkers and cyclists.
They also added that much more research is required to determine the associations of physical activity and air pollution with diabetes and other diseases. However, there is more than enough evidence at this time to justify the interventions that might actually increase physical activity and decrease air pollution.
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