Your heart and diabetes
Wednesday, 3 February 2021
“One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.”
While Nietzsche is warning against letting love override commonsense in this quote, our heart and brain are very much connected. They are central organs on which the rest of our body depends and for which we must take great care.
People living with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart (cardiovascular) conditions. The leading cause is atherosclerosis. While you can build atherosclerosis as you age, diabetes may speed up the development of plaques in your arteries. An atherosclerotic plaque consists of fatty substances, cholesterol, waste products from the cells, calcium, and fibrin (a stringy material that helps clot blood). Atherosclerosis comes from Greek words, athere (gruel), skleros (hard) and arteria (artery) and is also called hardening of the arteries. Your arteries can harden and narrow, reducing blow flow.
Your arteries are a tube with muscles surrounding them. If your blood pressure remains high over time, these muscles get stronger. When you use your muscles regularly, they become firm and increase in size. For muscles in the arms, legs, back and core that is usually a good idea; but not in your arteries, as it can reduce elasticity. With the loss of elasticity, blood pressure becomes higher, and your arteries are more likely to rupture.
Think about your heart as being your primary pump. Your arteries are the pipes that feed your body, and the veins recycle blood back into your heart. If you narrow any of the arteries similar to squeezing a hose, pressure builds up. Pressure places strain on your arteries and heart. The result of putting excessive stress on the heart is a heart attack or heart failure. Placing undue pressure on your arteries may rupture these blood vessels in the brain, heart and major organs. Diabetes can increase your risk of blood clots forming. Blood clots to the arteries feeding your heart muscles starve the heart muscle of oxygen.
Hopefully, you are not too overwhelmed by this description; please read on for the good news. Of course, we wouldn’t tell you about these matters of the heart unless you could overcome these risks with your head.
Here is how you can look after your heart:
- Be physically active. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure and help reduce a heart attack and stroke risk. Commit to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Please, check with your doctor before starting a physical activity program.
- Eat for health by choosing a wide variety of foods, including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods. Include high-fibre, low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate foods. Choose unsaturated fats such as avocado, unsalted nuts and nut butters, and extra virgin olive oil. To reduce your heart risk, limit foods high in saturated fat and salt (sodium).
- Keep blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the target range. You can reach these targets with exercise and healthy eating, as well as cholesterol-lowering medications. General targets for people living with diabetes are:
- Total cholesterol of less than 4mmol/L
- LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol of less than 2mmol/L
- HDL (‘good’) cholesterol of 1mmol/L or above
- Triglycerides of less than 2mmol/L.
- Manage your blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure below target reduces the strain on your heart and blood vessels. The general target for people living with diabetes is 130/80mm Hg or lower. If you have existing cardiovascular or kidney conditions, your doctor will advise you on a blood pressure target to meet your individual health needs. You can lower your blood pressure by reducing salt intake, losing weight and doing regular physical activity. Note that weight loss is not recommended for all people, so talk with your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe medications to manage your blood pressure.
- Smoking adds extra risk to your heart and arteries. Cigarette smoke toxins accelerate the production of plaque build-up in your arteries. If you feel you can’t give up smoking on your own, ask for help. Talk to your doctor or call the Quitline on 137 848.
We wish you a happy and healthy heart and head this Valentine’s Day. For more information regarding this article, or if you have a general enquiry, please contact us on 1800 177 055.
By Donna Itzstein, Pharmacist, CDE