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Air Pollution Consistent with Increase in Diabetes, Insulin Resistance


Making efforts toward a “green” lifestyle – particularly the reduction of air pollution - will not only benefit the Earth, but may also help lower the risk of developing diabetes. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Boston used data from the Centers for Disease Control and the US Census to find that for every 10 microgram per cubic meter rise in fine particulate matter there is an associated 1% increase in diabetes rates.

Fine Particulate Matter Increases Inflammation Leading to Diabetes

Even in locations where air pollution is considered being within safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the study found that those with the highest levels of particulate pollution had more than a 20% increase in diabetes prevalence over counties with the lowest rates.

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM-2.5, is found in smoke from coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers and in car exhaust. The EPA standard for safety is 15 micrograms per cubic meter or less.

Read: Expert Panel Warns Heart Patients and Lawmakers about Air Pollution Risks

A second recent study seems to confirm these findings. Epidemiologist Wolfgang Rathmann of the German Diabetes Center in Dusseldorf and colleagues calculated data between 1990 and 2006 on 1,775 middle-age women taking part in a study of air pollution’s link to lung disease and aging. Women living closest to busy roads, where vehicles would be a major pollution source, were more likely to develop diabetes than those living near less trafficked roads.

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Read: Study Shows Link Between Bad Air and Diabetes

Laboratory data has also found that mice exposed to fine particulate matter were more likely to develop insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Particulate pollution triggers a chronic, low-grade inflammation initially in the lungs leading to respiratory illnesses such as asthma. But this chronic inflammatory state can also affect specific immune cells and other tissues making the body more resistant to insulin and leading to higher levels of circulating blood sugar (diabetes).

"We didn't have data on individual exposure, so we can't prove causality, and we can't know exactly the mechanism of these peoples' diabetes," said study co-author John Brownstein. "But pollution came across as a significant predictor in all our models."

Between 1980 and 2007, diabetes rates for younger adults have nearly tripled, according to data from the CDC. In older adults, rates have doubled over the same timeframe.

For tips on how to personally reduce your impact on air pollution rates, read: Protect Your Lungs During Ozone Season.

Source Reference:
"Association Between Fine Particulate Matter and Diabetes Prevalence in the U.S." John F. Pearson, BS, Chethan Bachireddy, BS, Sangameswaran Shyamprasad, Allison B. Goldfine, MD, John S. Brownstein, PHD Diabetes Care October 2010 vol. 33 no. 10 2196-2201. Published ahead of print.