Particulate matter has even been linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and kidney diseases. However, the findings from the Washington University researchers could clue in medical professionals to new reasons behind a rising number of diabetes cases.
Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.
Anything less than 10 micrometers cannot only enter the lungs, it can pass into the bloodstream, where it is carried to various organs and begins a chronic inflammatory reaction thought to lead to disease.
The research study from the Washington University and School of Medicine in St. Louis collected data with no trace of diabetes on 1.7 million United States veterans, those who had been followed for an average of 8 and a half years. The researchers linked that patient data with the EPA's land-based air monitoring systems as well as space-borne satellites operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The validity of the link was tested through the introduction of two other variables: ambient sodium concentrations, which have no link to diabetes, and lower limb fractures, which have no link to outdoor air pollution.
The researchers then sifted through all studies related to diabetes and pollution and devised a model to evaluate diabetes risk across various pollution levels.
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The study estimated that pollution contributed to 3.2 million new diabetes cases globally in 2016 - or around 14 per cent of all new diabetes cases globally that year. A new report warned that outdoor air pollution may be a significant contributor to diabetes cases around the world. They also estimated another 8.2 million years of life were lost in 2016 because of pollution.
"Ten or 15 years ago, we thought that air pollution caused pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis and not much more than that", said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in NY.
Al-Aly said the research, published in the Lancet Planetary Health, found an increased risk even with levels of air pollution now considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is important because many economic lobbies argue that current levels [of permitted releases of pollutants into the atmosphere] are too strict and should be increased.
'Evidence shows that current levels are still not sufficiently safe and need to be tightened'. India, for example lacks proper environmental mitigation systems as well as clean air policies.
The risk does not dissipate, researchers warned, even if the pollution is at levels deemed "safe" by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
It was found that even with 2.4 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air slightly increased the risk of diabetes.