Diabetes mellitus for years has been linked with cardiovascular disease such as heart failure and coronary heart disease (blocked arteries in the heart, and the leading cause of death in the Western world). How scared should diabetics be?
Researchers from the Netherlands and Harvard examined medical records of 5,209 people (mostly white, 64% men) enrolled in the Framingham (Massachusetts, USA) Heart Study. This cohort has been examined every other year for more than 46 years.
Study subjects who had diabetes at age 50 were identified; health outcomes going forward were then analyzed, with particular attention to lifespan and cardiovascular disease. “Cardiovascular disease” in this context means coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, intermittent claudication (leg pain during exertion caused by blocked arteries), and transient ischemic attack (stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours).
Compared to those in the cohort free of diabetes, having diabetes at age 50 more than doubled the risk of developing cardiovascular disease for both women and men.
Compared to those without diabetes, having both cardiovascular disease and diabetes approximately doubled the risk of dying, regardless of sex.
Compared to those without diabetes, women and men with diabetes at age 50 died 7 or 8 years earlier, on average.
[Specific causes of death were not reported.]
We’d likely see longer lifespans and less cardiovascular disease if we could prevent diabetes in the first place. How do we do that? Strategies include regular physical activity, avoidance or reversal of overweight and obesity, and low-glycemic-index diets.
The Mediterranean diet it linked to reduced heart attacks and strokes, and longer lifespan. That’s why I’ve been working for the last year and a half to adapt it for diabetics.
We have better treatments for cardiovascular disease and diabetes and these days, so the death rates and illness numbers shouldn’t be quite so alarming. Up-to-date management of diabetes and cardiovascular disease will prevent some acute disease events—such as heart attacks and strokes—and prolong life.
Franco, O., Steyerberg, E., Hu, F., Mackenbach, J., & Nusselder, W. (2007). Associations of Diabetes Mellitus With Total Life Expectancy and Life Expectancy With and Without Cardiovascular Disease Archives of Internal Medicine, 167 (11), 1145-1151 DOI: 10.1001/archinte.167.11.1145
Knowler, W.C., et al. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. New England Journal of Medicine, 346 (2002): 393-403.
Tuomilehto, J., et al. Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. New England Journal of Medicine, 344 (2001): 1,343-1,350.