Objective The aim of the current study is to investigate the association of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of environmental pollutants, with diabetes mellitus. Animal studies link PAHs to inflammation and subsequent development of diabetes mellitus. In addition, occupational studies suggest that exposure to other aromatic hydrocarbons such as dioxins may be associated with diabetes risk in humans.
Design We examined participants from the merged National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2002, 2003–2004 and 2005–2006. Exposures of interest were eight urinary monohydroxy-PAHs. Our outcome was diabetes mellitus defined as a glycohemoglobin level (HbA1c) ≥6.5%, a self-reported physician diagnosis of diabetes or use of oral hypoglycaemic medication or insulin. Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, body mass index, race, alcohol consumption, poverty–income ratio, total cholesterol and serum cotinine.
Results We observed a positive association between urinary biomarkers of 1 and 2-hydroxynapthol, 2-hydroxyphenanthrene and summed low molecular weight (LMW) PAH biomarkers, and diabetes mellitus. Compared with participants with summed LMW PAH biomarkers in the lowest quartile, the multivariable-adjusted OR of diabetes mellitus among those in the highest quartile was 3.1 (95% CI 1.6 to 5.8).
Conclusions Urinary biomarkers of 1 and 2-hydroxynapthol, 2-hydroxyphenanthrene and summed LMW PAH biomarkers are associated with diabetes mellitus in US adults 20–65 years of age. The association of a one-time biomarker of PAH exposure has limitations commonly associated with cross-sectional studies, yet is consistent with experimental animal data and is worthy of additional consideration.
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