A Stunning Link Between Type 2 Diabetes and Climate Change

Most of us have never considered that climate change might have something to do with the increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Yet, a careful look at CDC data from 1993 to 2013 reveals that climbing temperatures closely correlates to the rise in cases of diabetes. The statistics show for every 1.8 degree Fahrenheit rise in annual temperature (or 1 degree Celsius) diabetes diagnoses increased by 3.1 per 10,000 individuals.

This means a 1.8 degree F increase in temperature could account for over 100,000 new diabetes cases each year, just in the U.S.

Rising Temps and Brown Fat

The startling correlation between rising temps and type 2 diabetes, though it doesn’t prove causation, reminds us how interconnected everything is. Even a slight bump-up in yearly temperature may affect our health because heat and cold alter body processes, such as the activity of our brown adipose tissue.

Brown adipose tissue (BAT), commonly called brown fat, is a natural substance our body uses to stay warm in cooler climates. BAT, when activated by cold temps, combusts a large amount of fat to create heat. As temperatures warm BAT activity is less important, and its lack of activation might contribute to insulin resistance, and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

Some recent research supports this idea by showing that type 2 diabetes patients experienced a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity after 10 days of mild cold exposure. It’s conceivable that cold exposure generates BAT activity, which in turn influences glucose metabolism.

Fundamentally Inseparable

The association between warmer temps and increased diabetes cases is stunning, but not surprising. Living beings and their environment are an integrated dynamic, and fundamentally inseparable. Our experience of life is not limited by the boundary of our skin.

According Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, climate change will likely increase the rates of asthma, allergies, cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses in coming decades. Plus, as temperatures climb, diseases once found only in warmer areas of the world may begin showing up in places that were traditionally cool.

The unpleasant reality is that pollution, sooner or later, directly or indirectly makes people sick. The toxins we put on or into our air, water, soil, and food return to haunt us, and our children, and their children.

That is why the products and services we choose to buy and use - whether food, skincare, household cleaners, lawn care, or autos - impact our health as surely as the grams of carbs we eat everyday.

Sources: MSN; BMJ; SGI; Scientific American; Hanssen MJ, Hoeks J, Brans B, et al. Short-term cold acclimation improves insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nat Med 2015;21:863–5.
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

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