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Air pollution in Delhi, Chennai increasing risk of diabetes: study

A study conducted in India has discovered a link between air pollution and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

By Ground Report
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A study conducted in India has discovered a link between air pollution and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The research, carried out in Delhi and Chennai, found that exposure to high levels of particulate matter (PM 2.5) can elevate blood sugar levels, thereby increasing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

PM 2.5 harms respiratory health

PM 2.5 particles, which are up to 30 times thinner than a human hair, can enter our bloodstream when we breathe, leading to a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

This study is part of ongoing research into chronic diseases in India that began in 2010. It is the first to examine the correlation between exposure to ambient PM 2.5 and type 2 diabetes in India.

The average annual PM 2.5 levels in Delhi were found to be 82-100 micrograms per cubic metre, and in Chennai, they were 30-40 micrograms per cubic metre. Both these figures significantly exceed the World Health Organization’s limit of 5 micrograms per cubic metre.

The study was led by the Center for Cardiometabolic Risk Reduction in South Asia (CARRS) and included participants aged 20 or older from urban areas of Chennai and Delhi. The study included a total of 12,604 individuals and collected geocoded household information and questionnaire-based information from them.

The researchers monitored a group of male and female from both cities from 2010 to 2017, periodically measuring their blood sugar levels. They used satellite data and models of air pollution hazards to determine the air pollution in each participant’s area over that time frame.

The study found that short-term, medium-term, and long-term exposure to PM 2.5 increased blood sugar levels and the risk of developing diabetes. For every 10 microgram per cubic meter increase in annual average PM 2.5 levels, the risk of diabetes increased by 22 per cent.

The study concluded that air pollution, along with lifestyle changes over the past 20 to 30 years, has been a major environmental factor contributing to the rise in diabetes cases.

What is PM2.5?

PM2.5 is made up of substances such as sulfates, nitrates, heavy metals, and black carbon. These substances have the potential to damage the inner lining of blood vessels and increase blood pressure by causing arterial stiffness.

Moreover, these microscopic particles can accumulate within fat cells, leading to inflammation and directly affecting the heart muscle.

Air pollution linked to diabetes risk

The study found a higher prevalence of diabetes in areas with high pollution, adding to the existing evidence from low-pollution scenarios in Western populations. People believed until now that factors such as diet, obesity, and physical activity explained why urban Indians have a higher incidence of diabetes than their rural counterparts. However, this study has unveiled air pollution as a new cause of diabetes.

The researchers acknowledged that the study has some limitations. They based the results on a group from two urban environments in India, which may not apply to the entire country. This study does not include dietary practices and lacks quantitative indoor PM 2.5 data, which are also typically found in urban environments, and these present additional limitations to the study.

The study did not assess exposure to other pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which may also play a role in disrupting sugar metabolism. The study included areas close to roads to account for traffic-related emissions in the health model. However, within-city variations due to the different composition of PM2.5 in the two cities and differences in emission sources may also affect the results.

The group did not repeatedly measure insulin, which could provide information about the different pathways by which PM2.5 affects glycemic markers and diabetes incidence. Therefore, the researchers suggest conducting further research on this topic.

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