While it’s been known that traffic-related air pollution can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, a new study shows that it may also contribute to instances of type 2 diabetes in women.
The study, published online and soon to be seen in the print version of Environment Health Perspectives, a publication affiliated with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, looked at German women living in highly polluted industrial areas and in rural regions with less pollution. The researchers followed 1,775 women who were aged 54 or 55 when the study began in 1985. Between 1990 and 2006, 187 study participants were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Living within 300 feet of busy roadways more than doubled the diabetes risk.
The women with the highest levels of C3c, a blood protein marker associated with diabetes and inflammation in the body, had an increased risk for type 2 diabetes during the 16-year follow-up period. It is unknown exactly how C3c affects diabetes. It’s speculated that immune cells in the airways may react with pollutants, setting off a chronic inflammatory response which may make individuals more susceptible to diabetes.
“I agree that environmental pollution contributes to inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Rashmi Gulati, of Patients Medical in New York City. “I would say that the primary factor in type 2 diabetes is poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. Breathing heavily polluted air certainly doesn’t help.”
Dr. David J. Ores, a general practitioner in Manhattan, wonders if the German women in the study who developed diabetes lived near a highway and ate a lot of meat and animal fat.
“I would like to see the same study with Japanese people or other cultures,” he says. “Obviously, breathing in poisonous gases your whole entire life will not be good for you.”
Study leader Wolfgang Rathmann says that although the research was done on women, there is no reason to assume air pollutants would not have the same effect on men.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes; however the condition does sometimes affect overweight or obese children. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or cells ignore insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When glucose builds up in the blood, complications can occur including glaucoma and cataracts, numbness in the feet, skin infections, heart disease and hypertension.
Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, while many more are unaware that they are at risk. The disease is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and the elderly. According to the American Diabetes Association, 7.8 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
Although it’s not realistic for everyone to move away from high-traffic areas, there are some things city dwellers can do to reduce the risk of diabetes from traffic-related air pollution.
“Get a HEPA air filter if you live near a highway or in an area that has poor quality air. Take frequent trips away from the city to the ocean or the country to get some fresh air. These things will help with respiratory health and heavy metals absorbed from air pollution,” says Gulati.
By Ronnie Koenig