The Diabetes Connection to Heart Disease

By Lea Wetzell, MS, CNS, LN
August 9, 2016

article_diabetes-hearthealth_holdingheart.jpgDid you know you can work to prevent heart disease by controlling your blood sugar levels? You might ask yourself, "What does my blood sugar have to do with my risk of developing heart disease?" Research confirms that high blood sugar levels lead to diabetes and to inflammation throughout the body.

Heart disease is the most deadly complication of diabetes, accounting for over 75% of all deaths among people with diabetes.¹ Men and women with Type 2 diabetes have a two- to three-fold increased risk of heart disease compared to a person with healthy blood sugar levels.¹·² Because half the population in the United States is facing diabetes or pre-diabetes by the year 2020, it is essential to understand how keeping blood sugar balanced can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

The Heart Disease-High Blood Sugar Connection

What's the connection between heart disease and high blood sugar? When you eat too many high carbohydrate foods, your blood sugar becomes elevated. Having excess sugar in your blood stream can create inflammation in your blood vessels. Inflammation can lead to cracks and lesions in your blood vessel walls, which then is repaired with a substance called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

You may have heard of LDL. Your doctor tests your LDL levels when you get your cholesterol checked and might refer to it as your "bad" cholesterol. This is not entirely true. LDL has many important jobs in the body including tissue and vessel wall repair, hormone production, insulation of nerves, and proper brain function. Continued high blood sugar cause damages to your blood vessel walls. Your liver makes LDL to repair that damage. LDL is a sticky substance that collects unhealthy trans-fatty acids and calcium, which can lead to a blockage. The best way to keep your blood vessels healthy is to maintain blood sugar levels between 70 and 95.

Balanced Eating Promotes Heart Health

To keep your blood sugar stable, in the 70-95 range, eat real foods in balance. Include protein, carbohydrates and fats with every meal and snack throughout the day. Here's an example of a heart-healthy dinner:

  • Four ounces of free-range chicken (real protein),
  • One cup of green beans and one half of a sweet potato (real carbohydrates), and
  • One-half of an avocado (real fat).

Meals like this taste great, keep blood sugar stable, increase energy, reduce cravings and give you better moods and focus throughout the day. Doesn't that sound great?

Highly Processed, Convenience Foods Put Your Heart at Risk

To prevent high blood sugar and diabetes, avoid highly processed, man-made foods such as cereal, muffins, doughnuts, cake, ice cream and candy. Processed foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar that can damage your blood vessels. Instead of quick stops at the gas station to pick up your morning muffin or an ice cream binge before bed, think of your heart the next time you crave something sweet. Grab a handful of heart-healthy almonds instead!

Heart-Healthy Supplements Can Help

For additional preventative care, consider taking these supplements:

  • Omega-3 fish oil—great anti-inflammatory properties
  • CoQ10—supplies energy to the heart muscle
  • Vitamin C—helps with collagen production that keeps your blood vessel walls healthy
  • Magnesium Glycinate—helps keep your heart muscle and blood vessels relaxed

1) "Meta-Analysis: Glycosylated Hemoglobin and Cardiovascular Disease in Diabetes Mellitus," Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004,141:421-431
2) "The independent effect of type 2 diabetes mellitus on ischemic heart disease, stroke, and death: a population-based study of 13,000 men and women with 20 years of follow-up," Archive of Internal Medicine, 2004, 164(13):1422-6

About the author

Lea is a licensed nutritionist at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Lea has her own life-changing nutrition story—a story that ignited her passion for nutrition. Her journey to health and wellness started in 2003 when she lost 50 pounds and healed her chronic asthma with real food and exercise. She received her M.S. in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and is a licensed nutritionist through the Minnesota Board of Dietetics and Nutrition. She is also nationally recognized as a certified nutrition specialist through the American College of Nutrition, an association composed of medical and research scientists to further nutrition research.

View all posts by Lea Wetzell, MS, CNS, LN

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