You may already know that November is Diabetes Awareness Month and that more than 65 percent of adults in the U.S. have either diabetes or pre-diabetes. What you may not be aware of, however, is that having diabetes also can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, seven out of 10 people age 65 or older who have diabetes will die of a heart attack or stroke.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says the connection between diabetes and cardiovascular disease boils down to sugar. “Excess sugar can increase insulin levels, which makes the arterial walls stiff and, over time, causes damage,” Pierce said. “This, of course, is where cholesterol and other compounds come into play. They help repair the arterial walls, but they also can build up and form plaque,” she explained. “Sugar consumption also can lead to increased weight and inflammation, which can also lead to several other chronic conditions,” she added.
And if you don’t have a diabetes diagnosis, you’re still not out of the woods. “One 15-year study from 2014 found that participants who consumed 25 percent or more of their diet from excess sugars doubled their risk of dying from heart disease when compared to participants who ate less than 10 percent of their diet from sugar,” Pierce said. “Less than 10 percent would be about 100 calories or six grams from sugar for females and 150 calories or nine grams for men,” she added.
“With this in mind, we all can take steps to reduce our risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Pierce continued. “First, it’s important to adopt an active lifestyle because doing so has been shown to lower blood sugar, help with weight loss and boost our sensitivity to insulin. In this way, exercise literally acts like a diabetes medication. Next, if you’re overweight or obese, it’s important to realize that even modest weight loss can reduce insulin resistance. For instance, a seven percent weight loss can reduce your diabetes risk by 60 percent. Third, we should look at diabetes as an intolerance to carbohydrate. Overall reduction of carbohydrate can be very effective when it comes to lowering blood sugar, so look for ways to limit your intake of the usual culprits such as sodas, juices and sweets,” she explained.
“If you have trouble, remember you can work with a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian to find a good balance, or consult your physician or an endocrinologist for help with medications that can help you manage it,” Pierce said. “If you find your diabetes is getting out of your control, look for resources in your area. Often, health departments have free classes on diabetes management you can take to help you learn better diabetes management strategies,” she added.