How Diabetes Affects the Heart
Diabetes and Heart Disease. What’s the connection and why is it important?
The connection between diabetes and heart disease can be described in 2 words: Insulin Resistance.
Insulin resistance is when the insulin receptors on our cells become unresponsive to insulin. In other words, when blood glucose (sugar) levels rise above the normal range, insulin is released from the pancreas. The purpose of insulin is to bring the glucose into the cells so the cells can transport it to different areas of the body to be used as fuel.
When the cells become insulin resistant, the cells refuse to take in the glucose, so it remains in the blood stream. This puts extra strain on the pancreas to release even more insulin in order to drive the glucose into the cells by force. What ends up happening is not only do you have high levels of glucose in the blood, but now you also have high levels of insulin in the blood as well, otherwise known as hyperinsulinemia.
What does this have to do with the heart?
Hyperinsulinemia creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the body. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury. Think about it, if you twist your ankle, your ankle swells & gets a slightly warming sensation due to blood rushing to the area. After a while, the swelling goes down and the warming sensation subsides.
The same thing happens when the body is in a pro-inflammatory state. The only difference is, the swelling doesn’t subside.
Now granted, this isn’t a visible swelling. It’s more of an internal, quiet, insidious inflammation that we are unaware of. This inflammation starts the process of initiation and growth of atherosclerotic plaque or the buildup and hardening of the blood vessels that the heart relies on in order to transfer blood to the lungs and other organs of the body. This plaque buildup can lead to heart attack or stroke.
That is why diabetics suffer from atherosclerosis and unfortunately experience heart attacks and stroke more than other populations.