Background: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of environmental chemicals with aromatic rings and are generated by the incomplete combustion of organic materials. A few animal and occupational studies suggested a possible association between PAHs exposure and increased risk of diabetes mellitus.

Objectives: We aimed to investigate the associations of urine levels of PAHs with diabetes mellitus in Korean adults.

Methods: We examined cross-sectional data from the Korean National Environmental Health Survey (KoNEHS) 2012-2014. The study population consisted of 6478 adult subjects (≥20 years of age) from 400 sampling districts in South Korea. The urinary levels of 1-hydroxypyrene, 2-naphthol, 1-hydroxyphenathrene, and 2-hydroxyfluorene were measured in the study subjects. Analyses were adjusted for gender, age, BMI, household income, alcohol consumption, physical activity, urinary creatinine, and urinary cotinine.

Results: We observed a positive association between urinary PAHs and cotinine after adjusting for all covariates. A higher geometric mean value of urinary 2-naphthol was observed in subjects with diabetes mellitus compared with controls (2.67 vs. 2.24 μg/L). There was no significant difference in other urinary PAHs according to the presence of diabetes mellitus. According to the elevation of urinary 2-naphthol quartile, the multivariate-adjusted odds ratio (OR) of diabetes mellitus significantly increased in both male and female adults (P-for-trend <0.05). Compared with subjects with urinary 2-naphthol in the lowest quartile, the OR (95% confidence interval) of diabetes mellitus in those in the highest quartile was 1.8 (1.24-2.63).

Conclusions: Urinary 2-naphthol levels were positively associated with diabetes mellitus in Korean general populations. Prospective studies are needed to determine a potential causal relationship between PAHs exposure and diabetes mellitus in human.


Y. Nam: None. S. Kim: None.

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