The effect of diabetes on heart function

According to the American Heart Association, a third of all deaths among patients with diabetes are associated with impaired functioning of the cardiovascular system (CVS). Indeed, the disease is a risk factor for the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease; diabetics develop heart attacks and stroke faster. How diabetes affects the functioning of the cardiovascular system and how these diseases are related .

Diabetes Health Status

Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disease characterized by a lack of (full or partial) insulin. With the first type, the pancreas simply does not produce it. In type 2 diabetes , insulin resistance develops – the hormone itself may be enough, but the cells do not perceive it. Since it is insulin that delivers the main source of energy, glucose, problems with it lead to elevated blood sugar levels.  

Circulation of oversaturated blood glucose through the vessels causes their damage. Typical problems for diabetics are:

  • Retinopathy is a visual impairment associated with fragility of blood vessels in the retina.
  • Kidney disease. They are also caused by the fact that these organs are penetrated by a network of capillaries, and they, as the smallest and most fragile, suffer in the first place.
  • Diabetic foot – a violation of blood circulation in the lower extremities, which causes stagnation. As a result, ulcers and gangrene can develop.
  • Microangiopathy can affect the coronary vessels surrounding the heart and supplying it with oxygen.

Why Type 2 Diabetes Causes Heart Disease

Diabetes mellitus, as an endocrine disease, affects metabolic processes. The inability to get energy from glucose supplied with food makes the body rebuild and take the necessary from stored proteins and fats. A metabolic disorder affects the heart muscle. The myocardium compensates for the lack of energy from glucose by using fatty acids – under-oxidized components accumulate in the cells, which affect the structure of the muscle. With their prolonged exposure, a pathology develops – diabetic myocardial dystrophy. The disease affects the work of the heart, in particular, is reflected in rhythm disturbances – atrial fibrillation, extrasystole, parasystole and others.

Prolonged diabetes mellitus leads to another dangerous pathology – diabetic autonomic cardioneuropathy. Elevated blood sugar leads to damage to the myocardial nerves. First, the work of the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for reducing the heart rate, is inhibited. The following symptoms appear:

  • Tachycardia and other rhythm disturbances.
  • Breathing does not affect heart rate. With a deep breath in patients, the heart rate does not slow down.

With the development of pathological disorders in the myocardium, the sympathetic nerves responsible for the increase in rhythm also suffer. Signs of arterial hypotension are characteristic of this stage:

  • Flies before your eyes.
  • Weakness.
  • Darkening in the eyes.
  • Dizziness.

Diabetic autonomic cardiac neuropathy changes the clinical picture of the course of coronary heart disease. For example, a patient may not experience angina pain during the development of transient ischemia of the heart, and even he suffers myocardial infarction without pain. Such a state of health is dangerous because a person, without feeling problems, may seek medical help too late. At the stage of damage to the sympathetic nerves, the risk of sudden cardiac arrest increases, including during the introduction of anesthesia during operations.  

Risk factors for diabetes and CVD diseases: obesity, stress, and more

Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are often caused by the same causes. The risk of developing these diseases increases if a person smokes, does not eat well, leads a sedentary lifestyle, experiences stress, and is overweight.

The effect of depression and negative emotions on the development of diabetes is confirmed by doctors. For example, scientists from the University of Bristol and University College London analyzed the data from 19 studies in which more than 140 thousand working people took part. Observations lasted for 10 years. According to the results, it turned out that those who were constantly afraid of losing their jobs and were stressed by this were 19% more likely to get type 2 diabetes than others.

One of the key risk factors for both CVD and diabetes is overweight. Scientists at Cambridge and Oxford Universities estimated the data of nearly 4 million people who participated in 189 studies and concluded that overweight increases the risk of premature death (a study published in The Lancet). Even with moderate obesity, life expectancy is reduced by 3 years. Moreover, most deaths are caused precisely by problems with the heart and blood vessels – heart attacks and strokes. The effect of overweight:

  • Metabolic syndrome, in which the percentage of visceral fat increases (weight gain in the abdomen), is also characterized by the development of insulin resistance – the cause of type 2 diabetes.
  • Vessels appear in the expanded adipose tissue, which means that their total length in the body increases. In order to effectively pump blood, the heart must work with extra load.
  • In the blood, the level of “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides increases, which leads to the development of atherosclerosis of blood vessels and coronary heart disease.

Obesity is dangerous for one more reason. An increase in blood sugar in type 2 diabetes is caused by the fact that insulin, which is responsible for the transport of glucose to cells, is no longer perceived by body tissues. The hormone itself is produced by the pancreas, but it cannot fulfill its functions and remains in the blood. That is why, along with increased sugar in this disease, a high level of insulin is recorded.

In addition to glucose transport to cells, insulin is responsible for a number of other metabolic processes. In particular, it activates the accumulation of body fat. When its level in the blood is normal, the processes of accumulation and waste of fat are balanced, but with an increase in insulin, the balance is disturbed – the body is rebuilt to build up adipose tissue even with small amounts of calories. As a result, a process is launched that is already difficult to control – the body accumulates fat faster, and increasing obesity further exacerbates the course of diabetes and heart disease.

In the fight against overweight, sport remains a key point, along with nutrition. Physical activity helps train the heart muscle, makes it more resilient. In addition, during sports, tissues need an increased level of energy. Therefore, the body starts processes (in particular, the production of hormones) that increase the susceptibility of cells to insulin. Scientists from the University of Otago in New Zealand conducted a study that showed the benefits of even a 10-minute walk after eating. According to the data collected, such physical activity helps lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes by an average of 12%.  

Foods that help the heart and prevent diabetes

Recent studies have expanded the list of useful products that help prevent the development of heart disease and diabetes. 

  • Dark chocolate.

Scientists from the University of San Diego (USA) found that those who eat 50 g of dark chocolate per day have lower blood glucose and “bad” cholesterol than those who prefer white chocolate. It turns out that dark chocolate is the prevention of diabetes and atherosclerosis. Doctors associate this effect with the action of flavanol, a substance with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Cranberry juice.

Two glasses of cranberry juice without sugar per day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke (15%) and heart disease (10%). This conclusion was reached by researchers from the US Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland. The benefits of the juice are polyphenols, which protect the body from CVS, cancer and diabetes. 

  • Walnuts.

A handful of walnuts per day helps reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in people with a hereditary predisposition to the disease. The study involved 112 people aged 25 to 75 years. The nuts on the menu helped normalize blood cholesterol, but did not affect blood pressure and blood sugar.

  • Grapes

Berries, like cranberry juice, contain polyphenols. A study led by American scientist Mitchell Seymour confirmed that these substances are also useful in metabolic syndrome. The experiment was conducted on mice that were fed grapes for 3 months. As a result, the animals lost weight, and their kidneys and liver improved.

  • Pistachios.

Nuts help improve the condition of people with prediabetes, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce inflammation and maintain normal weight. This was confirmed by a two-year study conducted in Spain. And scientists from the University of Pennsylvania found that eating about 50 grams of raw unsalted pistachios a day reduces vasoconstriction during stress.

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