Air pollution makes diabetic women more vulnerable to heart disease

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n Australian commercial aircraft prepares to land in the haze at Sydney's International Airport July 15, 2014. Australia's lower house of parliament on Monday voted to scrap the country's controversial carbon tax, setting up a final showdown in the Senate as early as Tuesday to decide the scheme's fate. Reuters/Jason Reed

Women with diabetes who are exposed to air pollution for a long time are more prone to develop heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Nov 25. Particulate matter may fuel the inflammatory process, further exacerbating chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“There is a convincing literature that long-term air pollution is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Jaime E. Hart, the lead author of the study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Reuters reports. “A number of studies of short-term air pollution exposures have suggested that individuals with diabetes are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The subjects of the study were 114,537 women with an average age of 64. During the follow-up of Nurses’ Health Study’s survey from 1989 to 2006, researchers recorded 6,767 cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD), 3,878 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) and 3,295 strokes.

Tiny particles produced from engine combustion, road dust and power stations increased the risk of CVD. The risks were even greater in women with diabetes. Exposure to an additional 10 microgrammes of particle pollution, the chances of acquiring CVD and stroke rise to 19 percent and 23, respectively.

“Our environment once again interacts with us in many silent ways that we continue to discover,” commented Robert Greenfield, medical director of the Non-Invasive Cardiology & Cardiac Rehabilitation at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “People need to be aware that there's a price to pay for pollution, especially if they have risk factors, in particular diabetes," said Greenfield who was not part of the research team.

For every increase in the finest  particulate, known as PM 2.5, which is released from vehicle exhaust and power plants, women with diabetes had a 44 percent chance of developing heart disease and 66 percent chance of developing stroke.

“There is some evidence to suggest that when women with diabetes are exposed to air pollution that they have higher levels of air pollution and oxidative stress than women without diabetes,” Hart told Reuters. “But I think this is an area where more research is needed.”

Doctors advise the public, specially diabetic patients, to keep sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol low and to exercise more. Maintaining a healthy body weight is of utmost importance as well. Moreover, polluted areas should also be avoided, if possible. 

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