Air Pollution Can Trigger Diabetes, Finds Landmark Indian Study: Here's How

High levels of PM2.5 particles increase blood sugar levels and diabetes incidence, found the study.

2 min read

A first-of-its-kind, landmark study that began in 2010 found that inhaling air with high amounts of PM2.5 particles led to high blood sugar levels and increased type 2 diabetes incidence.

How exactly does air pollution increase your risk of diabetes? Let's break it down.


Why it matters: Until now, it was assumed that poor lifestyle choices were the reason why urban Indians had a higher prevalence of diabetes than rural Indians. However, this study is an eye-opener "because now we have found a new cause for diabetes, which is pollution," Dr V Mohan, chairman of the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation and one of the authors of the paper, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

Moreover, the findings are particularly alarming considering a large population of urban India lives in areas where the air quality surpasses WHO's air quality guidelines most days of the year.

Zooming in: Speaking to FIT for a previous article, Dr Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of Endocrinology & Diabetes at Max Hospital, New Delhi, explained how it works. "It's very clear that when you do have high levels of PM 2.5 in the environment, they will excite inflammation and oxidative stress in the body," he said.

"PM 2.5 also damages the blood vessel lining, endothelium, as we call it, so endothelial function is also impaired in this. All of this can contribute to the computation and even development of diabetes."
Dr Ambrish Mithal to FIT

The bigger picture: India is considered the 'diabetes capital of the world', and this is not unwarranted, considering we make up 17 percent percent of all diabetes patients in the world.

Experts have been warning for years that it's been steadily getting worse, with younger and younger people being diagnosed with the condition.

By the numbers: Over the last few years, there has been a 20 percent increase in people in the age group of 14–25 years suffering from type-2 diabetes.

"Colleagues from AIIMS had done a big study some years back (that found), if you take both diabetes, and prediabetes into consideration 73 percent of Delhi's adult males had this what's called glucose intolerance or dysglycemia."
Professor Srinath Reddy to FIT

Can the risk be mitigated? Because air pollution is such a pervasive issue, there's only so much individuals can do to protect themselves from breathing in toxic air.

Speaking to FIT, Professor Reddy had said, "There are a number of multi-sectoral action plans which are already there with the government, what we require is effective implementation."

Some of these include:

  • Reducing vehicular pollution by imposing better emission standards on the fuels that are being used.

  • Reducing vehicle density.

  • Making a discernable effort to move from coal to cleaner energy.

  • Creating effective plans to properly control agricultural waste and garbage burning.

  • Placing madates to control construction dust in up and coming cities.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More