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Air pollution may account for 1 in 7 new diabetes cases worldwide

WASHINGTON: Air pollution could be responsible for 3.2 million new cases of type 2 diabetes every year globally, suggests a new analysis.

“We estimate that about 14 percent of diabetes in the world occurs because of higher levels of air pollution, that’s one in seven cases,” said senior study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of Washington University and the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in Missouri.

“Risks exist at levels that are below what’s now currently considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States and also by the World Health Organization,” he said in an interview.

The tiniest form of particulate matter pollution, known as PM 2.5, is already associated with increased risk of heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, and other noncommunicable diseases “and contributed to about 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015,” the study team writes in The Lancet Planetary Health.

PM 2.5 is the mix of solid fragments and liquid droplets suspended in air that’s sometimes visible to human eyes as haze.

“There is emerging evidence over the past several years that particulates, when they are small enough, they make their way through the lungs to the blood vessels,” Al-Aly said. “They go to the liver, they go to the pancreas, they go to the kidneys. These particles are noxious. They irritate tissue and they damage tissue, they create oxidative stress, they create inflammation.”

Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and aging and occurs when the pancreas can’t make or process enough of the hormone insulin.

To look for a link between air pollution and type 2 diabetes, researchers analyzed data on 1.7 million U.S. veterans without diabetes, comparing PM 2.5 levels where they lived to their risk of being newly diagnosed with the disease during the next eight and a half years, on average. The researchers separated out the independent effect of air pollution by taking other diabetes risk factors, like obesity, into account.

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