Diabetes Risks Caused by Air Pollution Can Surpass EPA’s Safe Levels, Research Shows

According to a major research that was issued on Friday in The Lancet Planetary Health, there is a link between air pollution and diabetes.

The research confirms that particulate matter in the atmosphere can increase the risks of diabetes above the safe levels formally issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization, CNN stated.

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The research also confirmed that reducing the risk of air pollution in countries like India and less polluted ones like the United States can lower the risk of diabetes.

It is important to know that diabetes is one of the main diseases that affects humans. According to a survey, it has been discovered that about 420 million people in the world are affected by this disease.

The main causes of diabetes include, obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and having an inactive lifestyle, but this new research confirmed that air pollution can also cause diabetes.

Moving forward, the lead author of the research, also an assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, Dr Ziyad Al-Aly stated this in a Washington University press release:

We found an increased risk, even at low levels of air pollution currently considered safe as by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is important because 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.”

Even though there have been numerous evidences that air pollution is linked with diabetes, lots of scientists have not looked into the situation not until this moment.

Over the past two decades, there have been bits of research about diabetes and air pollution. We wanted to thread together the pieces for a broader, more solid understanding,” Al-Aly also added. 

The study also revealed that 3.2 million new diabetes that occurred worldwide in 2016 were caused by air pollution. The same year, air pollution caused 14% of the total diabetes that occurred and 150,000 new cases in the U.S annually.

Although, not part of the study, Dr. Philip Landrigan, the dean for Global Health at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said to CNN that, “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 disease. I think you can very directly link relaxation of air pollution control standards with increased sickness and death.”

Analyzing the effect of air pollution, the researchers critically looked at the particulate matter, dust, smoke, and soot. Previous research have also discovered that these particles, microscopic dusts, smoke and soot enter the lungs and also the bloodstream, thus, causing various diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and kidney diseases.

In the case of diabetes, this harmful particles enter the blood and obstruct the insulin from converting blood glucose into energy for the well-being of the body.

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.” Dr. Landrigan told CNN.

The research team at the Washington University and the Veterans Affairs’ Clinical Epidemiology Center studied 1.7 million veterans at the medium age of 8.5 years. The team compared the particulate matter levels provided by EPA air quality monitors and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellites with patients’ data.

The team also looked at the previous research on air pollution and they developed a model to air pollution risks at different levels and made use of the Global Burden of Disease data to conclude the annual occurrences of diabetes.

In the United States, the EPA’s safe limit is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, as set by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and updated in 2012.

However, with the model made by Al-Aly’s team, they were able to discover an increased risk of diabetes at 2.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

According to the research data, 21% of the veterans had diabetes when exposed to particulate matter per cubic meter of air. The same number increased to 24% among the veterans exposed to 11.9 to 13.6 micrograms of particulate matter.

This recent study uses previous research works that link air pollution to diabetes as well as enlightening the public of the risks of air pollution.

The levels considered safe in the U.S by the EPA has the ability can increase the risk of diabetes – but poorer countries like Afghanistan, New Guinea, Nigeria, France, Finland, and India, face the greatest of diabetes linked with air pollution. People in wealthy countries like France, Finland, and Iceland have reduced risk to pollution-caused diabetes.