Risk Factors for Heart Disease: Diabetes Tops the List

If queried, many would name high cholesterol as one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Not even close. Many wouldn’t think of a condition 50% of us have.

I was giving a short presentation last week and one of the participants asked about diabetes and heart disease.  I had mentioned that, for me, there is little difference between the two, and this appeared to be something she had not heard before.

While not surprising, this fact is very true.  84% of diabetics die of cardiovascular related complications (heart disease and stroke combined).  So it would seem to me that every diabetic needs to work on protecting his or her heart.

Here’s the good news: improving your lifestyle to protect or improve diabetes and improving your lifestyle to protect your heart are one and the same.  Good luck trying to find something to avoid or improve your diabetes that doesn’t have a protective effect on the heart.  Exercise?  Both.  Stress management?  Both.  Avoiding BPA in plastics?  Both.  Nuts?  Both.

You get the idea.

So why does this concept seem to be a secret?  Maybe it’s because primary care doctors or endocrinologists manage diabetes and cardiologists manage heart disease.  Sad to think this way, but it seems to fit.  The closest we seem to come to managing both conditions is to make sure that diabetics are taking his or her diabetic medications or that diabetics are taking their Lipitor.  No one seems to take into account that these two conditions are caused by the same lifestyle choices, rather than being two separate entities needing to be managed with distinct tools.

This particular study drives this concept home.  Researchers looked at HbA1c levels and how they related to the risk of heart disease.  HbA1c is a marker to see how well you have been managing your blood sugars over the past 3 months or so.  HbA1c is actually a protein in red blood cells that gets damaged by blood sugar when it goes up.  So, higher blood sugar = more damage to the proteins in your body.  EVERY protein, not just this one.  So lower is always better.  Higher means that every protein in every cell of your body is being damaged more.  Not good.

Here’s the problem: elevations in HbA1c do not just occur in diabetes.  Basically, it’s a spectrum, with lower numbers being better and higher numbers getting worse.  Whether or not you are diagnosed with diabetes, higher HbA1c numbers are not good, and in the study, elevated HbA1c levels were associated with heart disease regardless of whether or not the person had been diagnosed with diabetes (yet).

The bottom line is, regardless of whether you are diabetic or prediabetic, your heart is in grave danger.  Luckily, you don’t need to pick which condition you want to make lifestyle changes for.  My recommendations can be found here.

Are you at risk?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.