An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are often mentioned in connection with diabetes. However, experts are now warning of an increased risk of illness from environmental pollutants. Now, one question being asked is how can air pollution cause diabetes? In this article, we would be dealing with environmental pollution and diabetes.
How is it that the number of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus has increased tenfold from one percent of the population in the 1960s to today? A few years ago, Professor Wolfgang Rathmann and his colleagues at the German Diabetes Center at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf asked this question.
It couldn’t be due to the genes, because they don’t change that quickly. Of course, there was the increasingly sedentary lifestyle. And the diet of ubiquitous fast food and convenience foods that are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, but low in healthy fiber. Both are largely responsible for the increase. But not alone, the experts believed. There had to be other factors.
Studies in mice – environmental pollution and diabetes
Rathmann and his colleagues suspected that environmental pollutants could be involved. An animal experiment in the USA provided the first indications. Some mice were first fed a high-fat diet to induce some risk of diabetes. Then the animals were divided into two groups: one was allowed to breathe air with pollutants in concentrations roughly equal to those found on a busy street for 24 weeks. The other received clean filtered air to breathe. Both groups were then examined.
In the mice with bad air, the sugar levels had increased and the inflammation levels were high. Its fatty tissue was also changed — “exactly like we knew it from diabetes,” says Rathmann: larger cells, immigrated immune cells, and there was more abdominal fat. The researchers suspected that something similar also happens in humans.
The irony of the story is that they had to cross a busy road to connect with people. “The Düsseldorf Institute for Environmental Medicine Research is located opposite our diabetes center,” says Rathmann. There was a study going on at the time. In 1700 women from the Ruhr area, the extent to which air pollutants increased the risk of bronchitis was examined. “Of course, we wanted to get involved with diabetes issues right away,” says the expert. Corresponding questions were added to the survey to help delve more into environmental pollution and diabetes.
environmental pollution and diabetes – the essentials in brief
- Particulate matter, noise, and climate change can also affect blood sugar and increase the risk of various diseases. Experts are calling for stricter regulations to protect vulnerable people in particular from harmful environmental influences
- Urban dwellers have a 40 percent higher risk of diabetes compared to people living in rural areas
- One cubic meter of breathing air in Berlin contains 13.1 micrograms of particulate matter. The capital has the dirtiest air in Germany
- The smaller, the meaner ultrafine dust gets into the blood via the alveoli and triggers inflammation
- 2.3 million Germans are exposed to noise levels of over 65 decibels all day long – above this limit, there is a risk of damage to health
- The louder, the more stressful noise causes permanent stress and sleep disturbances. Both increase blood sugar and the risk of vascular diseases
- 27 degrees Celsius: According to a study from Hong Kong, above this temperature the risk of a heart attack increases in diabetes patients
Diabetes from exhaust fumes – environmental pollution and diabetes
Traffic emissions don’t just damage the lungs. They also appear to increase the risk of developing diabetes. In the meantime, we increasingly know why. Combustion engines and tire wear produce particulate matter. It comes in different sizes: While relatively large particles with a diameter of 2.5 to 10 micrometers often get stuck in the nasal hair, smaller ones are inhaled into the deep airways. They stick to the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract and reach the alveoli. The immune system reacts. Scavenger cells move in to eliminate the foreign bodies.
“In doing so, they release oxygen, which interferes with the metabolism,” explains Professor Annette Peters, Director of the Institute for Epidemiology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. Studies indicate changes in the energy balance of cells and in insulin resistance. Ultrafine particles even leave the alveoli. They also cause inflammation. They can go into the body. Because the disease is always accompanied by undetected inflammation in the body, some of which have been going on for years.
Hereditary impairments cum environmental pollution and diabetes
Inflammatory reactions caused by particulate matter can increase both the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And that’s not all: Annette Peters and her team have discovered that persistently bad air could influence which genes are activated in the offspring. Possible damage would thus also be hereditary.
According to studies, air pollutants increase the risk of diabetes by ten to 30 percent. Being overweight is ten times (300 percent) as dangerous. In general, a lot has been done in recent years with exhaust filters in Germany to clean the air: According to the WHO, in 2007 60 percent of the German population lived in a region with high air pollution. In 2015 it was only five percent.
So problem solved? Not at all. Experts still think the air is too bad. “The current EU limits do not adequately protect people who are particularly vulnerable to damage, such as people with diabetes,” says Peters. Rathmann explains why: “Predominantly coarse fine dust particles are filtered out.” The fine and ultrafine particles are still floating around freely. According to Peters, a big step towards better air would be the energy transition. “By giving up fossil fuels in favor of renewable energies, the air quality would improve significantly all by itself.”
Diabetes due to high noise exposure
Bad air is not the only problem. Because where combustion engines are running and tires are squeaking, it’s loud. Permanently high noise levels at home also increase the risk of diabetes. Depending on the study by up to 20 percent. “Noise creates stress,” explains Rathmann. “The body releases hormones that increase blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate.”
A high noise level also promotes heart problems. Noise also disturbs sleep. There is a lot of evidence that a bad night’s sleep increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. It’s no wonder that the negative effects of bad air and noise are increasingly being observed in cities: at least an evaluation of over 40 studies worldwide revealed a 40 percent higher risk of diabetes than in rural areas.
6 tips for hot times
How to get through the next heat wave healthy and with good values:
- Sugar levels plumb: Anyone who injects insulin or takes a sulfonylurea preparation can have hypoglycemia at high temperatures. Among other things, heat curbs the appetite. “In addition, injected insulin gets into the blood faster at high temperatures,” says diabetologist Dr. Georg Guggenberger from Wolfratshausen. Heat stress, in turn, can increase blood sugar. So, measure more often, always if hypoglycemia is suspected. Ask your doctor how you can best adjust the therapy so that the sugar levels stay balanced.
- …and blood pressure too: Do you feel dizzy on hot days? Maybe your blood pressure is dropping too low. This can happen because the vessels dilate due to heat. For blood pressure and heart problems in the heat, Guggenberger advises measuring the pressure at least twice a day. And whenever there is a suspicion that something is wrong. If the values are repeatedly too low, ask the doctor whether the tablet dose should be reduced.
- Stay Fluid: If you sweat a lot and drink little, your body dries out. When the sugar level is high, fluid is also lost through the urine. Certain medications for type 2 diabetes, the SGLT-2 inhibitors, have a similar effect. So make sure you drink enough on hot days. How much, clarify with the doctor. “This is particularly true in the case of pronounced cardiac and renal insufficiency. Drinking too much or too little can quickly have an unfavorable effect,” says Guggenberger. A good liquid supplier is a mineral water, preferably not ice-cold. You may sweat even more after a cold drink.
- Siesta for the heart: Heat puts a strain on the body, we tire more quickly. So do as the Spaniards do: take it easy during the hottest hours of the day. For example in a darkened, cool room. This is especially true for heart and circulatory problems. Schedule your exercise sessions in the morning or evening hours. And dress light and airy.
- Protection for the feet: In the heat, many people prefer to wear sandals or nothing at all on their feet. As long as the nerves and vessels in the legs are intact, that’s usually okay. The main thing is that the shoes do not chafe or pinch. The following applies to nerve damage: Please wear closed shoes and socks and never walk barefoot. Because then you might not feel if you burn yourself on hot asphalt. Ask your doctor which shoes and socks are suitable and whether you need special insoles.
- Don’t jump in at the deep end: Drenched in sweat? Taking an ice-cold shower now puts a strain on the circulatory system and can be dangerous if you have heart problems. Better to cool down: hold the inside of the wrists under cold water, a cold underarm bath, or a damp cloth on the neck. If your blood circulation is disturbed or if you have nerve damage, please do not use cold footbaths.
Those who are forced to live on a busy street because of their financial situation are usually doubly burdened. And usually has little chance of escaping it. Rathmann believes that politicians must adopt stricter requirements. Not only with air pollutants and noise. But also with certain chemicals in pesticides, plastics, and cosmetics. This to us will help reduce the effect of environmental pollution and diabetes on sufferers.
“Some of these substances act like hormones in the body and are suspected of promoting obesity and type 2 diabetes.” The examples show that reducing diabetes prevention to individual behavior is not enough. The conditions in which people live must also be designed to be as harmless as possible. And yet everyone can do something personally. The great thing is that it is not only good for your own health. It also helps the climate on a small scale.
Lifestyle influences the climate
More exercise lowers blood sugar and the risk of diabetes. Those who pedal instead of the gas pedal, walk instead of taking the tram, or climb the stairs instead of the elevator, also save energy and produce no emissions that contribute to global warming. The same applies to a low-meat diet without red meat from pork and beef. These help to curb the effects of environmental pollution and diabetes.
There is also a connection between diabetes and the environment: those who are weak, for example pre-existing, suffer particularly badly from rising temperatures. In the last 20 years, there have been many more hot days in this country, on which the thermometer rises to 30 degrees and more. On such days, significantly more people with diabetes die from heart attacks than those without. This is shown by data from the KORA heart attack register, which has been registering heart attacks for 30 years. “I was really surprised that we are already seeing this impact of climate change,” says Annette Peters. Needless to say, it frightened her too.