In Part 2 of our series on Atherosclerosis, we discussed how plaque and subsequent blockage actually forms in our arteries. Some of this process is unavoidable and is present in essentially all adult Americans. One goal of today's discussion is to consider why diabetic individuals have more severe hardening of the arteries. The second goal is to discuss how all people, both diabetics and non-diabetics, can minimize and, in some cases, reverse these blockages, thereby saving the organs at risk.
Understanding Diabetes and Its Effect on Your Arteries
Most people know that diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar. This high blood sugar condition is associated with low insulin and/or low insulin sensitivity. However, the key to why diabetics have more problems with vascular disease is because of the effect that this high sugar has on the arteries.
There is a lot of ongoing research on this subject, and the precise explanation as to why the elevated sugar makes the atherosclerotic process worse can be very complex. The bottom line is this: in diabetics, the entire atherosclerotic plaque formation process is markedly accelerated. That “atherosclerotic stew” we discussed last time simmers much more vigorously, creating plaque and blockages much faster than in non-diabetic persons.
Taking Control of Your Health to Minimize Atherosclerosis
The picture painted so far is pretty bleak. Since plaque formation is inevitable, are we doomed to be consumed by its ravages?? To the contrary, there is much we can do to minimize the arteriosclerotic process. And, if you have read the last 2 articles in this series, you now have the tools to maximize your vascular health!
Let’s start with diabetics. Since elevated blood sugar has been shown to accelerate the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, then tight control of your blood sugar is mandatory. You should monitor not only your blood sugar, but your Hemoglobin A1c. The latter should be kept at or below 6.5% according to the expert European consensus guidelines published in 2007.
Now that we know that plaque formation is initiated by an injury, we can make sure our blood pressure is in the normal range. High pressure can cause injury at the microscopic level. I recommend that all adults try to hit the target of 130/80.
In spite of normal pressures, turbulence created at the branch points in the arterial system can cause microscopic injury, so we must do all we can to counteract plaque formation. We know that cholesterol and fatty elements are present in plaque. Logically, we should adjust our diets, lose weight, and try to lower our bad cholesterol [LDL]. Triglycerides, the other fats floating around in our blood stream, should be kept at a low level.
Since we know that exercise appears to lower LDL and raise HDL [good cholesterol] and in some studies lowers blood pressure, an effort should be made to embark and maintain an exercise program. Exercise also lowers blood sugar, burns calories, helps lose weight, and releases endorphins.
Nicotine, in any form, should be totally eliminated from anyone’s life style. Chewing tobacco is not an alternative for smoking, since no matter how it gets into the blood stream, nicotine causes a significant acceleration of the atherosclerotic process.
Involve Others to Better Your Health
Last, but not least, do not be reluctant to engage health care professionals to help you accomplish your life style goals. Physicians, dietitians, and personal trainers are available to help people achieve these goals. The ultimate beneficiary is you, because your vital target organs will be happy, getting a healthy blood supply of oxygen and nutrients.
Get a free vein screening at Five Star Vein Institute. Dr. Robert Ruess and his staff will help you understand your vein health and offer preventative measures and corrective treatment for vein problems you may have.