Ambient air pollution and gestational diabetes mellitus: A review of evidence from biological mechanisms to population epidemiology

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jun 1;719:137349. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137349. Epub 2020 Feb 15.


Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a serious complication of pregnancy that could cause adverse health effects on both mothers and fetuses, and its prevalence has been increasing worldwide. Experimental and epidemiological studies suggest that air pollution may be an important risk factor of GDM, but conclusions are inconsistent. To provide a comprehensive overview of ambient air pollution on GDM, we summarized existing evidence concerning biological linkages between maternal exposure to air pollutants and GDM based on mechanism studies. We also performed a quantitative meta-analysis based on human epidemiological studies by searching English databases (Pubmed, Web of Science and Embase) and Chinese databases (Wanfang, CNKI). As a result, the limited mechanism studies indicated that β-cell dysfunction, neurohormonal disturbance, inflammation, oxidative stress, imbalance of gut microbiome and insulin resistance may be involved in air pollution-GDM relationship, but few studies were performed to explore the direct biological linkage. Additionally, a total of 13 epidemiological studies were included in the meta-analysis, and the air pollutants considered included PM2.5, PM10, SO2, NO2 and O3. Most studies were retrospective and mainly conducted in developed regions. The results of meta-analysis indicated that maternal first trimester exposure to SO2 increased the risk of GDM (standardized odds ratio (OR) = 1.392, 95% confidence intervals (CI): 1.010, 1.773), while pre-pregnancy O3 exposure was inversely associated with GDM risk (standardized OR = 0.981, 95% CI: 0.977, 0.985). No significant effects were observed for PM2.5, PM10 and NO2. In conclusion, additional mechanism studies on the molecular level are needed to provide persuasive rationale underlying the air pollution-GDM relationship. Moreover, other important risk factors of GDM, including maternal lifestyle and road traffic noise exposure that may modify the air pollution-GDM relationship should be considered in future epidemiological studies. More prospective cohort studies are also warranted in developing countries with high levels of air pollution.

Keywords: Air pollution; Biological mechanism; Epidemiological study; Gestational diabetes mellitus; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants
  • Air Pollution*
  • Diabetes, Gestational*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter