Air pollution raises diabetes risk. Avoid the damage with these tips

Published on:2 December 2021, 18:26pm IST
Did you know that the risk of diabetes can increase through exposure to air pollution? Come, find out more from an expert. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
pollution and diabetes
Air pollution is a leading cause of insulin resistance. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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For the longest time, we have known that the biggest contributors towards diabetes have been a bad diet, lack of physical activity, and genetics. But according to a new global study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, air pollution is one of the most unsuspicious factors contributing to the rising cases of type-2 diabetes in the world.

Air pollution has been one of this century’s biggest most menacing environmental hazards, and its impacts on health are also pretty concerning. From burning fossil fuels, to vehicular emissions and construction, there are hundreds of ways in which the air around us has been continuously contaminated. Inhaling this air, we are giving the harmful airborne particles a free passage into our lungs and the bloodstream, which in turn, often puts us at high risk of suffering from bronchitis, heart attacks, and other problems.

pollution and diabetes
Air pollution can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

It is widely known that these harmful pollutants can act as a trigger for people with respiratory allergies. And apart from the fact that long-term exposure to particulate matter can even cause cardiovascular diseases, lung cancers, serious damage to the nerves, brain, kidneys, liver and other vital organs, the newest research claims that exposure to nanoparticles present in this can also be responsible for causing type 2 diabetes mellitus.

For those who do not know, particulate matter is a combination of dirt, dust, grit and smoke that together form the main components of air pollution. While there are some particulate matters that are visible to naked eyes, a major part of it is microscopic in size. PM10 and PM2.5, which means particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less and 2.5 micrometers or less, respectively, are two of the most commonly found particulate matter. It is often the smaller sizes of the pollutant particles that possess the higher risks to the human body.

How are air pollution and diabetes interconnected?

A plethora of research in the past has linked air pollution to the increasing risk of developing diabetes. However, the recent study published in the Lancet Planetary Health presents a detailed evaluation of the relationship between levels of pollution and the risk of developing diabetes through a survey among 1.7 million US veterans.

None of these veterans had any history of diabetes. However, after observing them closely for 8.5 years, the results showed that upon breathing the air when the levels of particulate matter 2.5 were between 5 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter, about 21 percent of people ended up developing diabetes. This went up to 24 percent as the exposure to PM2.5 increased to 11.9-13.6 micrograms per cubic meter.

pollution and diabetes
Keep your sugar in check. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Over the years, similar research has also been conducted in Iran, Hong Kong and Germany. But despite all these studies, the reasons for poor air quality causing diabetes is still unclear and research is still being conducted to ascertain the correlation and understand the root cause.

How to safeguard yourself from air pollution hazards?

First and foremost, in order to stay safe from the adverse effects of air pollution, make an active contribution towards reducing carbon emission by opting for sustainable modes of transportation. Using public transport to work, or whenever you can, can be a big step towards minimizing vehicular pollution. Walking and cycling are also good ways to reduce air pollution, as well as to stay fit.
Apart from that, simple ways in which you can stay protected from the harmful effects of air pollution include the following:

1. No burning garbage

Avoid burning garbage in the open, as it pollutes the air in the surrounding.

2. Wear a mask

Do not step out of the house without wearing a good quality mask, preferably N95, N99 or N100. It can filter out the finest pollution particles.

3. Avoid early morning or late evening walks

If you stay in an urban setting with poor air quality, avoid walks or stepping out of the house in the early morning or late evening hours in general, as the pollution levels are at the peak during those hours.
pollution and diabetes
Walking is beneficial for health but avoid it if you’re a diabetic. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

4. Get an air purifier

To keep the air inside your house safe from external pollutants, use a good quality air purifier. It filters out the allergens, toxins and other pollutants from the indoor air. Also make sure to keep all the doors and windows of your house closed during mornings and evenings, as the pollution levels are at the maximum during these hours.

5. Wear sunscreen

Before stepping out of your house, make sure to wear a good sunscreen to avoid any kind of skin damage.

6. Be physically active

Make sure to follow a regular routine of physical activity such as walking, running, cycling, or yoga daily for at least 30 min to keep yourself active and healthy.
pollution and diabetes
Eat right and stay active. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

7. Monitor your sugar levels

Especially for people who are diabetic and pre-diabetic, it is recommended to check your blood glucose at least once to twice a day. And for those who are at a high risk of developing diabetes like those who may be obese or overweight, having a family history, hypertensive, etc., it is recommended to get your sugar levels checked. This also includes an oral glucose tolerance/HBA1C test annually. You can also get access to a glucometer, and keep your health in check, on your own.

8. Stay hydrated

Stay well-hydrated and drink ample quantities of water, juices and other oral fluids, but avoid beverages. This may help to keep your blood glucose levels in control.

Dr Mudit Sabharwal Dr Mudit Sabharwal

Dr Mudit Sabharwal, Consultant Diabetologist and Head of Medical Affairs, BeatO