Ambient and Traffic-Related Air Pollution Exposures as Novel Risk Factors for Metabolic Dysfunction and Type 2 Diabetes

Curr Epidemiol Rep. 2018 Jun;5(2):79-91. doi: 10.1007/s40471-018-0140-5. Epub 2018 Apr 10.


Purpose of review: Diabetes mellitus is a top contributor to the global burden of mortality and disability in adults. There has also been a slow, but steady rise in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in youth. The current review summarizes recent findings regarding the impact of increased exposure to air pollutants on the type 2 diabetes epidemic.

Recent findings: Human and animal studies provide strong evidence that exposure to ambient and traffic-related air pollutants such as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) play an important role in metabolic dysfunction and type 2 diabetes etiology. This work is supported by recent findings that have observed similar effect sizes for increased exposure to air pollutants on clinical measures of risk for type 2 diabetes in children and adults. Further, studies indicate that these effects may be more pronounced among individuals with existing risk factors, including obesity and prediabetes.

Summary: Current epidemiological evidence suggests that increased air pollution exposure contributes to alterations in insulin signaling, glucose metabolism, and beta (β)-cell function. Future work is needed to identify the specific detrimental pollutants that alter glucose metabolism. Additionally, advanced tools and new areas of investigation present unique opportunities to study the underlying mechanisms, including intermediate pathways, that link increased air pollution exposure with type 2 diabetes onset.

Keywords: air pollution; beta-cell function; insulin resistance; type 2 diabetes.