Urban air pollution — especially the particles and gases spewed by heavy traffic — can increase a senior citizen’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes, according to a new German study, based on the chronic low-level tissue inflammation that pollution triggers.
Although inflammation can be a healthy response to acute infection, chronic inflammation can damage tissues and stress the body. Several studies have linked inflammatory pollutants with diabetes, although never, as here, in a long-running study where the participants started out healthy.
For their new study, Wolfgang Rathmann and his colleagues at the Leibniz Center for Diabetes Research at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf analyzed data from 1,775 women — all around 55 years old and healthy when they entered the study 16 to 25 years ago. Most came from coal and steel regions in Germany, although some were recruited from small towns with little industry.
At entry and then again between 1990 and 2006, several biomarkers of inflammation were assayed in the women — notably complement factor C3, or C3c (a protein produced by the liver in response to infection or other sources of inflammation). The blood’s complement proteins get their name from the fact that they complement the work of antibodies by killing bacteria, producing inflammation and regulating other aspects of immunity.
Throughout the study, 187 participants developed type 2 diabetes.
All other things being equal, the more pollution a woman encountered, the greater was her chance of developing diabetes.