High air pollution levels are known to cause an array of adverse health effects. Now, according to a recent study, even “safe” levels of air pollution could increase the risk of diabetes. In 2016 alone, the researchers found that 150,000 new diabetes cases could be linked to pollution. Around the world, it could be contributing to as many as 3.2 million, which is 14% of all new cases.

Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, who is a senior author in the study and an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University noted: “There’s an undeniable relationship between diabetes and particle air pollution levels well below the current safe standards. 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.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who was not involved in the study added:  “Ten or 15 years ago, we thought that air pollution caused pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis and not much more than that. 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.”

The current figures for diabetes are staggering. Across the world, an estimated 422 million adults were diagnosed with the condition as of 2014. This is compared with 108 million in 1980. Although lack of exercise and poor diet are considered the biggest risk factors in developing the disease, experts are beginning to look at other possible factors including the link between air pollution.

There is already a known link between air pollution and disease. This is due to the fact that it’s believed to trigger increased inflammation, as well as interfere with the body’s ability to manage insulin production. The results seen in the new study, along with previous information that’s been collected across the world has shown that variations in pollution levels could have an impact on the risks of diabetes.

Landrigan also said: “This is a very well-done report, very believable, and fits well with this emerging knowledge about the impacts of air pollution on a series of chronic diseases. I think you can very directly link relaxation of air pollution control standards with increased sickness and death.” He added that individuals in low income countries, and especially children are the most vulnerable, even with relatively low exposure.

 

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