The connection between Air Pollution and Type 2 Diabetes

Air pollution is now recognised as a major risk factor for a number of health disorders, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Recent research has focused on its possible link to Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). There are a lot of studies conducted on this topic to verify whether they are linked or not, but a recent Indian study shows that they are interlinked. This article will give you all the details, its connection and impact.

A 15-year study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has revealed a concerning link between particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure and the incidence of T2D among over 12,000 residents of Delhi and Chennai, two of India’s busiest metropolises.

The Findings Of The Study

The focus was on the possible health consequences of long-term exposure to PM2.5 particles, which are infamous for their ability to infiltrate the human respiratory system and mix within the bloodstream.

The study found shocking results– a slight increase in tiny air particles (PM2.5) by 10 micrograms per cubic meter led to a 22% higher chance of individuals getting type 2 diabetes. PM2.5 denotes tiny particles, less than 2.5 micrometres wide, coming from cars, factories, and fossil fuel burning.

This study holds much weight for India as it houses 14 of the 20 cities with the worst pollution globally, as per World Health Organization (WHO) records. The air quality in these places often crosses the safe boundaries defined by WHO, making it a big health worry. Recently, the AQI of Delhi crossed 600.

New Risk Factors

The study’s primary investigator, Siddhartha Mandal, a researcher at the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, said that the unique pathophysiology of Indians, who have a low Body Mass Index (BMI) but a high proportion of fat, makes them more vulnerable to diabetes compared to western population.

Dr. V Mohan, who heads the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and co-writer of the paper, said that before, it was believed that factors like diet, obesity, and physical activity were the main reasons for the higher rate of diabetes in urban Indians compared to rural ones. Furthermore, he mentioned that this study sheds light on a previously unknown cause of diabetes, which is pollution.

The problem found in the BMJ study isn’t just for India but for the whole world. The link between dirty air and Type 2 Diabetes is a big health issue, especially in cities with a lot of pollution. This is common in many countries, not just India, especially where cities and industries are growing fast.

How Does PM2.5 Affect Insulin Production?

  • PM2.5 can trigger an inflammatory response within the body. The inhalation of these pollutants can lead to the activation of inflammatory pathways, releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory mediators into the bloodstream. Chronic inflammation is known to disturb the release of insulin, which is important for glucose uptake and metabolism.
  • Air pollutants can generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) leading to a state of oxidative stress within the body. Oxidative stress can damage cells and tissues, including those involved in insulin signalling and glucose metabolism. The disturbance of insulin signalling ways due to oxidative stress results in insulin resistance, a precursor to T2D.
  • Studies suggest that exposure to certain pollutants is associated with increased adiposity (fat collection). Excess adiposity is known to promote insulin resistance, and thus, exposure to such pollutants indirectly increases the risk of T2D.
  • The beta cells in the pancreas are responsible for insulin secretion. Exposure to certain air pollutants can cause dysfunction or death of beta cells, bad for insulin secretion and thus contributing to the development and progression of T2D.
  • Air pollutants may induce epigenetic modifications, which are changes in gene expression without alterations in the DNA sequence. These modifications can affect genes involved in insulin signalling and glucose metabolism, contributing to the development of T2D.

What Can Be Done To Control It?

  • Implement strict regulations to control emissions from industries, vehicles, and other pollution sources.
  • Promote the use of clean and renewable energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Conduct further research to understand the deeper mechanisms linking air pollution to diabetes and other health issues.
  • Conduct campaigns to educate the public on the health risks associated with air pollution and diabetes.
  • Integrate air quality improvement strategies within broader public health and urban planning policies.
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