A Breath of Diabetic Air

Diabetes risk may be associated with air pollution

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Air pollution is unhealthy for all us. Past studies have shown that air pollution may be especially harmful to people with diabetes. Now, it seems that air pollution may even fuel the development of diabetes.

The risk of developing diabetes may be slightly greater for people who live in areas with high amounts of traffic-related air pollution. The risk is even greater for healthier people, such as nonsmokers and physically active people.

"Breathing polluted air may lead to diabetes."

Previous research has shown that people with diabetes may be more prone to the damaging effects of air pollution, specifically its impact on their heart health. A new study by Zorana J. Anderson, Ph.D., of the Danish Cancer Society, and colleagues flips that relationship: air pollution may play a role in the development of diabetes.

Across the United States, many urban areas have high levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that comes from vehicle exhaust fumes. Dr. Anderson and colleagues found that people who live in these areas have a four percent higher risk of developing diabetes, compared to those who live in areas with cleaner air.

The risk of being diagnosed with diabetes was even greater for healthier people who live in polluted areas. Physically active people were 10 percent more likely to develop diabetes while nonsmokers were twelve percent more likely to come down with the disease.

While this study does not show that air pollution is the direct cause of diabetes, it does offer some clues as to where researchers should look next. It is possible that nitrogen dioxide triggers something inside the body that leads to diabetes. However, it also could be that air pollution is a sign of some other factor that is at play, such as poverty.

For their study, Dr. Anderson and colleagues followed more than 51,000 people from the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health cohort of the Danish National Diabetes Register. Of these participants, 2,877 (5.5 percent) were diagnosed with diabetes.

The study is published the journal Diabetes Care.

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Review Date: 
November 29, 2011
Last Updated:
December 1, 2011