Diabetes and Heart Health

When you think about heart health, you may not necessarily connect it to your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, you may not realize that your risk of having heart disease is higher because of the diabetes. But the truth is diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you also experience metabolic syndrome ( a condition where you have insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and are overweight) the risk is even higher. Several people with type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome. All of these factors increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. People with diabetes also tend to have heart disease at a younger age and may not benefit as much from medical interventions such as surgery as people without diabetes. But why?

Diabetes causes an increase in sugar in the bloodstream known as hyperglycemia. This excess sugar in the blood can cause irritation and damage to the blood vessels and nerves that supply the heart. Over time this gradual damage can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Sugar leads to inflammation and we know that inflammation is a major cause of heart disease. If other risk factors such as smoking, being overweight, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet are also present, then the risk goes up. The good news is that there are steps you can take, even if you have diabetes, that will help you reduce your risk of heart disease. Make sure you work with a healthcare team that are experienced in managing diabetes.

Here are my tips for living a healthy life with diabetes.

  1. Eat a healthy diet. This means avoiding refined sugars (soda, sweets, fruit juice) and reducing intake of all carbohydrates. This does not mean that you cannot have any food that contains carbohydrates. Otherwise you would be limited to eating only meat, eggs, fats and maybe some cheese. That does not make for a healthy diet. You can have sweet potatoes, green peas, beans, and even white potatoes in moderation. Other vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and greens have some carbohydrate but less than starchy vegetables like potatoes. Fruit can be okay in small quantities. Choose fruits with less sugar such as apples, berries and cantaloupe.
  2. Have healthy eating habits. If you have a crazy eating schedule, eating the right foods may still not help enough. Do not skip meals. Eat a good breakfast with protein every morning. Try to eat at least every four hours throughout the day to avoid getting overly hungry and causing blood sugar fluctuations. Watch your portion sizes and stop eating before you feel full. Give yourself time to see if you are still hungry to avoid overeating.
  3. Manage your other risk factors. Make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are under control. If you smoke, quit. Lose weight if you need to. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Find ways to reduce your stress. If you have a family history of heart disease, look at the habits of those family members with heart disease and break those habits. Researchers tell us that only about 10-20% of our health problems come from our genes. The other 80-90% are based on our daily choices and lifestyle. Even if you inherited bad genes, you are not doomed to disease.

For more information on diabetes and heart disease, check out this link from the National Institutes for Health.

Feel free to leave your comments below and share this with people in your life that you care about. You may also want to check out the other articles in this series on heart health.

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