What’s behind diabetes’ strong connection to heart failure?

There’s a connection between diabetes and heart health… no doubt about it…

People with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease. They’re more likely to have a heart attack. They’re more likely to go into heart failure.

Why?

Well, the risk sometimes gets blamed on the fact that people with diabetes often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol too. Those are both risk factors for heart problems, after all. So, why wouldn’t diabetics have a higher risk of serious conditions like heart failure?

But the connection between diabetes and heart failure goes deeper than that. In fact, a new study shows that diabetes is a risk factor for heart failure all by itself — no blood pressure problems, cholesterol problems or even a history of heart disease necessary.

Diabetes-induced heart failure is very real

A new study from Mayo Clinic researchers shows the effects of diabetes can trigger heart failure — even if you don’t have other risk factors for heart failure like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a history of heart disease.

In case you don’t know, heart failure is a condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood to keep up with your body’s needs. It causes symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and swelling in the feet, legs, neck veins, stomach or other areas.

The study included 116 people with diabetes and 232 people without diabetes. Researchers followed them for 10 years and here’s what they found…

About 21 percent of people with diabetes developed heart failure independent of other causes. But only 12 percent of people without diabetes developed heart failure. What does this mean?

Some people with diabetes are more likely to develop heart failure due to their diabetes — not due to overlapping risk factors.

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Why would diabetes alone cause heart failure?

Well, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels. It can also damage the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. And the longer your blood sugar is out of control, the more likely it is to cause this serious damage.

“The key takeaway is that diabetes mellitus alone is an independent risk factor for the development of heart failure,” said Horng Chen, M.D., Mayo Clinic cardiologist and senior author of the study. “Our hope is that this study provides a strong foundation for further investigations into diabetes and heart failure. There is still much to learn and study in terms of this association and how to best diagnose and treat this condition.”

Managing diabetes for a healthier heart

Managing your diabetes is clearly key to protecting your heart. But that’s easier said than done. So, how exactly do you get your diabetes in check?

Well, drugs, exercise, and diet are the most common diabetes treatments. Diet, in particular, has a profound effect on diabetes symptoms — especially if you make changes right after you’re diagnosed. Here are a few different dietary approaches you can take to improve diabetes:

  • Low-cal eating. Several recent studies show that eating an extremely low-calorie diet (like 600 calories per day) can reverse type 2 diabetes in people who’ve had it for 10 years or less.
  • Biological clock-based eating. One small but promising study found that people with diabetes who ate three meals a day that aligned with their biological clock (gradually got lighter as the day went on) lost weight, lowered blood sugar and needed less diabetes medication. They ate a breakfast that included bread, fruit, and sweets, a satisfying lunch, and a small dinner that didn’t include starches, sweets, or fruit.
  • Lowcarb eating. A lot of people with diabetes have success with low-carb diets like keto or paleo. That’s partly because these diets help them lose weight, which improves blood sugar control. But low-carb diets may have other diabetes benefits as well.
  • Mediterranean-inspired eating. The Mediterranean diet is incredibly popular right now, and there’s some evidence it can lower blood sugar levels for people with diabetes. So, if low-cal or low-carb eating aren’t for you, give Mediterranean-inspired eating a try.

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Sources:

  1. Diabetes can independently lead to heart failure, population study shows — MedicalXpress
  2. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke — National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
  3. Heart Failure — National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.