Like Smoking, Traffic Pollution Could Increase Diabetes Risk

Chemicals found in pollution could increase inflammation in the body, which is known to affect one's risk for several conditions

main ssuaphotos shutterstock_40584751.jpg

Of all the myriad variables that increase one's risk for developing type 2 (adult onset) diabetes -- smoking, being overweight, having a larger waistline -- air pollution is not one we usually think of. But newer studies are suggesting environmental risk factors for diabetes: A new one finds that living in an area with more traffic pollution could increase one's risk, particularly in people who are healthier to begin with.

Researchers followed 52,000 city-dwellers in Denmark over a period of ten years. During this time, about 2,800 participants (5.5 percent), who were 50-65 when the study started, developed diabetes. The researchers also measured nitrogen dioxide levels, as a marker of traffic pollution, around the homes of the participants.

The classic variables associated with diabetes were found in this study, as one would expect: advanced age, weight, smoking status, fat intake, blood pressure, cholesterol, and alcohol intake were all linked to greater risk of diabetes.

But beyond these variables, the researchers also found that living in areas with more pollution was correlated with an increased diabetes risk -- but only slightly, at about four percent. The link was "borderline significant," according to the researchers. It was, however, stronger for people who were in better overall health, and for women. For example, in non-smokers who lived in high pollution areas, the risk for diabetes rose to 12 percent. A 10 percent increase in risk was found for physically active people. Women were another group for whom traffic pollution appeared to have an especially large effect.

The reason for the connection may have to do with the fact that the chemicals in pollution could increase inflammation in the body, which is known to affect one's risk for several conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and, of course, diabetes. This may be part of the reason that women were more sensitive to pollution than men: The authors reason that their bodies may handle inflammation differently from men (or, alternatively, they could spend more time around the home).

Healthier people may be more sensitive to the toxins from pollution precisely because they are healthy, and have fewer existing risk factors. But more research will be needed to flesh out the relationship between pollution, inflammation, and diabetes. Though environmental toxins may have a slight effect on one's risk, it's well demonstrated that lifestyle factors play an even bigger role in the development of diabetes. So making beneficial changes in your life -- eating right, exercising, and not smoking -- is likely the best way to reduce your risk.

The study was carried out by a team at the Danish Cancer Society and published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Image: ssuaphotos/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In