Air pollution causes type 2 diabetes.
You read that right. And now, thanks to the latest medical research out of St. Louis, we now know how many diabetes cases we can attribute to air pollution.
Researchers looked at about 1.7 million veterans in the U.S. for a bit more than eight years. They studied the development of diabetes along with other factors, including air quality.
What they found was that air pollution causes about 14% of new cases for diabetes around the world.
But there are a few important takeaways from this study...
First, the study only focused on the U.S., but the researchers expanded the findings to apply to the global scale. Now, this is great for getting overall numbers, but it tends to skew the data. For instance, the U.S. is one of the least-polluted countries in the world.
The researchers even state that the burden is heavier in low-income and low-to-middle-income countries. Think places like Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh.
Second, air pollution does raise inflammation. We know this already from prior studies...
Air pollution happens when tiny bits of debris make their way into the air we breathe. These so-called "nanoparticles" come from things like car exhaust or wood burning.
We also know exactly how air pollution gets into our blood and how long it sticks around.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh had participants inhale air containing inert gold dust the same size as typical nanoparticles. The gold, which is easy to trace, appeared in the blood within 24 hours. Worse, the gold stayed in their blood for about three months.
These particles can lead to blood clots, which increase our risk of stroke and heart attack. The nanoparticles from air pollution also trigger inflammation, which, as we know, leads to problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Third, air pollution isn't the only factor. Although the U.S. is low in pollution, we still have a high incidence rates for diabetes (higher than Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh). Pinpointing one single cause in a multifactorial disease is dicey... and often makes people focus on just that one factor instead of a full list of healthy lifestyle changes.
You also need to think about genetics, diet and weight, and activity level when considering risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Aside from genetics, we can control the rest. That's why I strongly encourage my readers to eat whole foods and plenty of vegetables, as well as get up and get moving on a regular basis. Walking just 20 minutes a day is great for your health.
Three More Steps to Reduce Your Air Pollution Exposure
1. Check your air-quality forecast for the day. The National Weather Service allows you to search by city and state for your local report. You can find that here. You can also turn on air-quality notifications on your smartphone. My researcher likes the app from IQAir called AirVisual. It gives her notifications during the day along with weather and a view of air-quality projections for the rest of the week.
2. Plan your route. If you want to go for a walk, opt for a quieter, less polluted area like a park instead of walking around a few city blocks. Remember, exercise is vital to our health, including preventing diabetes. So it will likely outweigh any problems of exposure – just keep your workout short. Don't use this as an excuse to stay indoors.
3. Use an air filter at night. Since we spend about a third of our lives in our bedroom, do what I do and keep an air purifier by your bed. It's an easy way to get clear air and recharge overnight.
Reducing your exposure to air pollution means lowering your risk of one factor for diabetes. Just remember, it's only one of several contributing factors. Don't neglect your diet or exercise either. Including air pollution guidance is simply the next step toward a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.
Here's What We're Reading...
- Did you miss it? Our last issue on air and noise pollution.
- Something different: What bees contribute to Big Macs.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 12, 2018