DIABETES AND HEART DISEASE
February is American Heart Month. The American Heart Association (AHA) stresses the importance of heart health, especially this year as Covid-19 quarantines have led many to unhealthy habits such as increased alcohol intake and reduced physical activity. The heightened stress of the pandemic also prompted increased intake of calories and weight gain for some, All these behaviors are risk factors for both diabetes and heart disease and highlight the importance of education and increasing awareness.
DIABETES AND YOUR HEART
Diabetes and heart disease remain dominant health threats and continue to be significant causes of chronic illness and death in the United States. Both diseases often coexist, and according to the American Diabetes Association, “people with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke than people without diabetes”. Consequently, It’s essential to make the lifestyle changes needed to lower your risk for both.
WHAT IS HEART DISEASE?
There are different types of heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD). The most common is atherosclerosis which involves impairment or damage to the lining of the blood vessels and arteries that lead to the heart.
With atherosclerosis, blood flow is restricted due to a build-up of cholesterol plaques along damaged artery walls. Over time, arteries narrow and may become blocked, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Blood vessel damage can result from a number of factors. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammation, smoking, and obesity or diabetes.
Heart failure is another type of heart disease. It involves damage to the heart muscle leaving it too weak to pump blood adequately. Consequently, other organs in the body don’t get the amount of blood they need. In turn, fluids begin to back up where they shouldn’t. For example, fluid may collect around the lungs and result in shortness of breath or fluid may collect around the ankles causing swelling.
HOW DOES DIABETES INFLUENCE AND IMPACT HEART DISEASE?
Elevated glucose levels damage the lining of blood vessels. With prolonged exposure, blood vessels lose some of their resilience and elasticity. With decreased flexibility, blood vessels stiffen, narrowing and decreasing blood flow.
Narrowed blood vessels then lead to a rise in blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause further damage, as a consequence of the increased force needed to pump the blood. Studies demonstrate a link between high blood sugar and elevated blood pressure.
Insulin resistance is the inability of insulin to adequately move blood glucose into cells. As a result of insulin resistance, and prolonged exposure to high blood sugar, cholesterol levels worsen resulting in a condition called diabetic dyslipidemia. This is when there are low levels of HDL or good cholesterol, high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol, and elevated triglycerides. Triglycerides are another type of fat from the foods we eat, particularly those high in sugar, fat, and alcohol. Triglycerides are stored as unused and excess calories in fat cells, and when elevated they contribute to plaque formation in blood vessels.
Insulin resistance is also a characteristic of heart failure. People with insulin resistance are frequently found to have both diabetes and heart failure. Each of these diseases is considered a risk factor for the other.
Unhealthy blood sugar levels may also contribute to the development of arrhythmias by affecting electrical impulses within the heart. Changes to the heart’s rhythm are also influenced by reduced blood flow due to cholesterol plaques.
PREVENTIONS AND TREATMENTS GO HAND IN HAND
Diabetes and heart disease are largely dependent on diet and lifestyle. Both may be delayed or even avoided by the adoption of healthy choices and behaviors.
Follow these 6 steps to both prevent, and treat diabetes and heart disease:
-A diet high in fiber, and low in sugar and fat will help to reduce the risk for diabetes and heart disease as well as improve outcomes should these develop . Eating more fish, plants, and vegetables, and less red meat is the goal.
-Increase fiber intake by choosing foods made from whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas and raw vegetables. Aim for 25-30 grams of fiber per day.
-Reduce overall fat intake and choose healthier fats such as olive oil, avocado and seeds and nut butters.
-Highly processed foods such as deli meats, frozen meals, bakery items and packaged snacks are high in fat, and sugar and usually low in fiber. Limit or avoid the intake of these foods.
2. DAILY EXERCISE
-A lifestyle change that includes daily exercise not only helps to lower blood sugar, but also promotes weight loss and a reduction in cholesterol levels.
-Daily exercise should consist of at least 30 minutes of brisk movement and be a combination of aerobic and stretching exercises.
-For example, if you choose to walk, which is an aerobic exercise, combine it with warm-up and cool-down stretches.
-If you haven’t been active for a while, check with your health care provider for any restrictions you may have before starting.
3. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
-Obesity is a risk factor for both diabetes and heart disease. Even a small weight loss of 5% can make a difference. For example, by losing 10 pounds, a 200 pound man can shed 5% of his weight and expect to see an improvement in his blood sugar and lipid levels. A healthy diet, smaller portions and increased activity all promote weight loss.
-Obesity triggers insulin resistance and high blood sugar, and elevates cholesterol and blood pressure.
-A waist measurement of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women is defined as obesity.
4. STOP SMOKING
-Smoking and the harmful chemicals present in cigarette smoke are damaging to cells and can increase your chances of developing diabetes by increasing insulin resistance.
-Smoking may also increase plaque formation leading to or worsening atherosclerosis, and increase blood pressure.
5. REDUCE STRESS
-When faced with stress, the body produces a hormone called cortisol. When there is too much cortisol it can result in an increase in blood sugar and the development of diabetes over time.
-Stress also increases blood pressure
-With chronic stress, the prolonged elevation of blood pressure and blood sugar, damages arteries and blood vessels.
6. TAKE MEDICATIONS AS PRESCRIBED
-Oral or injectable diabetes medications must be taken as prescribed.
-There are two diabetic medications that are also heart protective. One type lowers blood glucose by increasing its excretion in the urine, reducing fluid build up. The other helps the pancreas release insulin and promotes weight loss.
-Statin medications are prescribed to help lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels. They may also protect cells from damage due to cholesterol plaque build up.
-Statins are commonly prescribed to patients with both diabetes and heart disease.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS TO MONITOR
Signs and symptoms of diabetes and heart disease are often silent at the start heightening the importance of routine monitoring. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines suggest checking cholesterol levels every 5 years starting at the age of 20. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) now recommends doctors start screening for diabetes at age 35, or earlier in the presence of obesity or family history.
Here are some common signs of elevated blood sugar, however many people diagnosed with diabetes have no symptoms:
Monitor for these outward signs of heart disease, and seek medical attention immediately:
-shortness of breath
THE BOTTOM LINE
Diabetes and heart disease are difficult and long-term health issues that may be preventable. Making the right diet and lifestyle choices can help lower your risk for both.
Symptoms can be silent at first, so routine screening is important. Make sure to get regular medical check-ups. If there is a family history or symptoms appear, have them checked out right away.
Eat a healthy diet high in fiber and low in fat and sugar. Avoid highly processed foods and try to eat more meals at home. Increase consumption of fish, and plant proteins such as soy and quinoa and eat less red meat. Limit added fat and choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, and nut butter.
Get more exercise, lose weight and choose a more active lifestyle. Quit smoking and try to reduce the stress in your life. Exercise is a good way to do this. And if your healthcare provider has prescribed medication, take it as recommended.
Diet and lifestyle changes are not easy. Take it one step at a time, but make the decision to get started. If you would like help with preventing or managing diabetes, consider a One-on-one Nutrition Counseling session with one of our experienced registered dietitians or join the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) designed to help you make better food choices and decrease your risk for developing diabetes. Additionally, our Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support(DSME) group helps improve your skills for managing blood sugars to reduce your risk for developing diabetes-related complications. Schedule an Appointment Today! (240) 449-3094. Many of our services are covered by insurance.