Yet Another Reason To Freak Out About Air Pollution: It Could Cause Diabetes

mbg Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."

Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC

We've long known that exposure to air pollution can contribute to heart disease and cancer over time, and a new study finds another potential side effect of dirty air: diabetes.

A team out of Washington University in Saint Louis researched the pollution-diabetes link by monitoring 1.7 million U.S. veterans who did not have histories of diabetes over the course of 8.5 years on average.

They found that those who lived in areas with more pollution (particulate matter, airborne microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot, etc.) ran a higher risk of developing the disease, likely because they had lower insulin levels and more inflammation, which left them unable to convert blood glucose into energy. Based on this in-depth research, the team is estimating that pollution contributed to an incredible 3.2 million cases of diabetes around the world in 2016 (though they do not specify whether this covers new cases of Type 1 or Type 2, or both), about 14 percent of all new cases globally.

And here's the kicker: Even people who were exposed to pollution levels that have been deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed an increased risk.

"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," Ziyad Al-Aly, M.D., the study's senior author, says in the report. The EPA regulations say that air with less than 12 micrograms of pollutants per cubic meter of air is safe for the public, but his team claims this number should be closer to 2.4 micrograms.

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing illnesses in the world, and 420 million people suffer from it globally. The estimated cost of the disease in 2017 was $327 billion in the United States alone, according to the CDC. Here's hoping that this in-depth study encourages legislators to take a stronger stance on pollutants—both for the sake of our planet and our health.

Pollution and the climate change it contributes to has majorly far-reaching impacts. Check out a few more ways it could be harming your health.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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