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Does Air pollution increase diabetes risk?

Does Air pollution increase diabetes risk?

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People who live near the west coast fires may be concerned with the more obvious problems that come with poor air quality – irritation in the airways, runny nose, aggravated asthma, or just breathing air that smells like a campfire. 

But, there’s more to it than that. A recent study shows that air pollution changes the way your body breaks down sugar. Researchers found that even short- and mid-term exposure to air pollution can change your body’s diabetes risk markers.  

In participants over age 65, exposure to one particular pollutant gas, nitrogen dioxide, increased fasting blood glucose in both diabetic and non-diabetic participants. HbA1c levels, another test that tells you how your blood sugar is doing, increased by 0.07% (95% CI: 0.03–0.09) with exposure to coarse particulate matter in the air, and by 0.09% when they were exposed to fine particulate matter in the air. 

Coarse particulate matter measures less than 10 microns in diameter and causes problems in the nose and throat. Fine particulate matter is less than 2.5 microns in diameter, and is able to penetrate more tissues in the body and cause more serious problems like heart attack, stroke, bronchitis, lung disease, and cancer. 

Research on the effects of air pollution

Air pollution Diabetes

It’s not a new concept that air quality affects your health, but more and more research is uncovering just how bad it is for us. 

  • Not long ago, we covered a study about the effect of poor air quality during pregnancy, and how it changed babies’ brain structures. 
  • In 2013, the World Health Organization advised that air pollution could contribute to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases.
  • Black carbon, one of the airborne products of burning, is associated with hypertension, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, and a variety of types of cancer.

What’s worrisome about particulate matter is that it can be made of any type of particle – dust, ash, harsh chemicals, heavy metals … the list goes on. 

Blood sugar and chronic disease

Air pollution DIabetes

This study is particularly notable because controlling your blood sugar and insulin has a ripple effect on your whole body. Stable blood sugar can mean fewer food cravings, better focus, more stable moods, and the big one – less inflammation.  

Inflammation is at the root of a lot of disease processes in the body, including heart disease, Altzheimer’s, cancer, and more of the things we want to avoid. 

The foods you choose will largely determine how stable your blood sugar is throughout the day, and this study shows that you may have to take it a step further on days of sub-par air quality. 

Extra steps to take during times of poor air quality

Here are some things you can do during times when your air quality isn’t the best:

  • If you know your area is having fires or weather patterns that affect air quality, check your local air quality scores at sites like
  • The obvious: stay inside until air quality returns to healthy levels
  • Eat a breakfast that incorporates healthy fats and protein to help keep your blood sugar stable for the day
  • If air pollution is exceptionally high and you have to go out, wear an N95 or activated carbon filter mask to reduce the particulate matter you inhale
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid sugary foods and beverages to give yourself the best chance at staying level
  • If you live in an area that’s affected by frequent low air quality, you might consider investing in an air purifier for your home