Managing Diabetes by Caring for the Heart

People with diabetes have one or more cholesterol problems, increasing their risk of heart disease. Yet, many are unaware of their risk. An American Diabetes Association (ADA) survey found that more than two-thirds (68%) of people with diabetes do not consider heart disease to be a serious complication of diabetes.

The reality is that heart attacks affect people with diabetes at a younger age, often resulting in premature death. The solution is to keep cholesterol and other blood fats, also known as lipids, under control.

Understanding Lipids

There are several types of lipids and each affects the body differently.

LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) can narrow or block arteries, causing a heart attack or stroke.
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) removes deposits from the inside of arteries and prevents them from being blocked.
Triglycerides, like LDL cholesterol, increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Ensuring Safe Lipid Levels

Regular blood lipid level tests must be carried out for patients with diabetes to know whether their lipids are at safe levels. The ADA has set the following goals for blood lipids:

LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.
HDL cholesterol should be more than 50 mg/dL in women and 40 mg/dL in men.
Triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL.

Medical Treatment

Those already diagnosed with heart disease or with LDL levels of greater than 200mg/dL should take cholesterol-lowering drugs. They should take their medicines as prescribed by their doctors and not stop taking them without first consulting their doctors.

Healthy Eating

Eating right is essential in reducing blood cholesterol too. That means using very little oil in cooking; avoiding foods with saturated fats such as fatty red meat and full cream dairy products; reducing high-cholesterol foods such as egg yolk, prawns and offal meats as well as avoiding products with hydrogenated fats or trans fats found in many margarines, peanut butter and cookies.

Instead, eat more soluble fiber-rich foods such as oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, lentils and beans as well as wholemeal breads and wholegrain cereals to help reduce bad LDL cholesterol. These also contain anti-oxidants that help prevent atherosclerosis (arterial block).

Regular Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle will only worsen diabetic problems. So try to be more active. However, do not over-exert yourself, especially if you haven’t worked out in a long time. Get started by taking brisk walks, bicycling and swimming. Some activities such as gardening, mowing grass, doing housework, washing the car or even playing with children can help work the body without straining it too.

To control diabetes, it’s essential to keep the heart healthy. And that means lowering LDL cholesterol to protect the heart. Drug therapy, a healthy diet and regular exercise are all important elements in the management of diabetes and heart disease.