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Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where your body is either unable to use insulin the way it is supposed to, or your pancreas does not produce enough of this hormone. This causes high level of sugar in the blood stream. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disease and not much can be done about it but type 2 diabetes is more of a lifestyle disease though genes do have some influence too. There are many external factors that can trigger the onset of type 2 diabetes. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and too much stress are some of the common triggers of this type of diabetes. In recent years, another risk factor of this disease has emerged, and this is environmental pollution.
Exposure to air pollutants is significantly associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Air pollution is a leading cause of insulin resistance and incidence of type 2 diabetes and a few studies have found a higher prevalence of this condition in polluted areas. One study even found this association is stronger for traffic pollutants, gaseous, nitrogen dioxide, tobacco smoke and particulate matter.
A study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri confirmed that air pollution causes diabetes. Published in Lancet Planetary Health, this study proved that air pollution is one of the leading causes of diabetes. Researchers came to this conclusion after examining a group of veterans with no history of diabetes in the family and each leading a healthy lifestyle for an average of 8.5 years. After taking into account incidences of obesity and unhealthy eating practices, they saw that air pollution alone can give a person diabetes. This is worrying indeed as millions of people around the world live in highly polluted areas.
Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical, says, "Air pollution can exacerbate the risk of complications in people with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes. This is particularly important in light of the fact that about 91% of the world's population resides in places where air pollution exceeds 'safe' levels prescribed by the World Health Organization." He further adds that a study also revealed that inhaling air pollutants can stimulate gluconeogenesis (the synthesis of glucose) and hamper the breakdown of glucose in the liver. This also contributes to an increase in blood sugar levels. People with diabetes must therefore take precautions and ensure that they manage their condition. This includes not venturing out when the pollution levels are high and monitoring blood sugar regularly.
According to Dr Sehgal, "When air pollutants enter the blood stream, they reduce the production of insulin, the hormone which regulates blood sugar levels, triggering inflammation. When these pollutants enter cells, tissues and other organs, they trigger inflammatory mechanisms that can disrupt the regulation of hormones. The most dangerous air pollutant for people with diabetes includes PM2.5."
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