Diabetes and heart disease: Making the link

Dawn Holloway

Dawn Holloway

As American Heart Month begins, remember that the most common long-term complication associated with diabetes is cardiovascular disease. In fact, diabetes itself is a risk factor for heart disease. This is why it is important for diabetics to not only lower their carbohydrate (sugar) intake, but their fat intake as well.

Most type 2 diabetics also suffer from high blood pressure, elevated LDL (low-density lipoprotein) “bad” cholesterol and decreased levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) “good” cholesterol, therefore they are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, up to 75 percent of all people with diabetes die from conditions related to cardiovascular disease. Heart attacks among diabetics are more serious and more likely to result in death.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million adults and children in the United States have diabetes, including 9.7 million women. This number continues to increase daily. Approximately 90 percent of these individuals have type 2 diabetes.

Eating healthy is a key component to maintaining blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One alternative to increasing HDL and lowering LDL is lowering the intake of saturated and trans (unhealthy) fats and increasing the intake of monounsaturated (healthy) fats. The best way to lower saturated and trans-fats is to reduce the amount of solid fats (butter, margarine, sausage, bacon, ground beef and shortening) consumed. For example, choose leaner meats such as skinless chicken breasts in place of fried chicken, or substitute skim or 1 percent milk in place of whole milk. Monounsaturated fats can be increased in your diet by cooking with canola, olive or avocado oils or consuming olives, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, pecans or peanuts.

Prepare food by baking, broiling or grilling, instead of frying. Frying foods could lead to heart disease because the food has been cooked in oils containing trans fats. Use cholesterol-lowering margarine and eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. When shopping, look for the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” on the label. The American Diabetes Association also recommends eating fish two to three times per week to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Certain types of fish such as albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

While eating healthy is one way of decreasing cardiovascular complications, exercising on a regular basis and smoking cessation are key components, as well. By combining some form of cardiovascular activity (walking, jogging or using a treadmill or stationary bike) four to five days per week with weight lifting two to three times weekly can increase HDL and lower LDL levels.

The goal for individuals with diabetes is to maintain blood pressure at 130/80 and below, overall cholesterol less than 200, with LDL below 100 and HDL greater than 45 for men, and greater than 55 for women. Triglycerides need to be maintained below 150.

Diabetics should visit their primary care physician every three to six months. At these visits, blood pressure should be monitored and yearly lab work for cholesterol should be done. Patients need to consult their physician regarding the benefits of aspirin therapy.

For more information on diabetes-related information, call the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center at 865-977-5767.

Dawn Holloway is a registered nurse, certified diabetes educator and program coordinator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.

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