Air pollution can lead to diabetes

January 22, 2009 4:41:34 PM PST
Right now, about 24 million Americans are living with diabetes, but experts predict that number will double in the next 20 years. While doctors know diet and exercise can play a big role in the disease, a new study shows that your address could also be a major factor. Even though his mother had diabetes, Joe Kessler didn't know he was at risk. In fact, if it wasn't for a routine checkup, Kessler may not have found out that he has diabetes too.

"I was taking a physical and it was caught by accident, just through the blood work. While I was glad it did, I did not go to the doctor for that reason," said Kessler.

Since then, Kessler has had to pay close attention to what he eats.

Experts have known for some time that diabetes is linked to things like fatty and sugary foods, but now researchers have found a strong connection between diabetes, diet and air pollution.

Cardioligist Dr. Sanjay Rajagopalan says air pollution not only affects your lungs, it also causes problems in other organs. His research team exposed mice to the same dirty air that many of us breathe every day.

"Every mouse that we exposed to a high fat diet, along with exposure to inhaled particulates, had marked worsening of diabetes," said Dr. Rajagopalan.

The tests showed that air pollution caused inflammation, increased body fat, and interfered with how the mice processed insulin, a hallmark of diabetes. The effects were strongest when combined with a poor diet.

That's not good news considering one in three Americans is obese, and one in six lives with poor air quality.

"It's interesting that the diabetic increases have been most notable in urbanized areas, where there has been a high percentage of patients being exposed to bad air," said Dr. Rajagopalan.

For years, Kessler breathed in bad air while working as a fabricator and welder. Today, he's an avid boater and doesn't take a single breath of fresh air for granted. There are steps you can take to protect yourself. Doctors say if you live in an area with poor air quality, try to limit your exposure, especially during the worst conditions.

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