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Numbers Show Elevated Blood Sugar A Problem For Non-Diabetics

Two new studies offer compelling evidence elevated blood sugar increases the risk of heart disease, not only in people with diabetes, but also in non-diabetic patients with high-normal readings.

The problem has to do with the blood sugar itself -- independent of other problems that often go along with it, like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Before the studies, diabetes was already known to be bad for the heart:

  • Diabetes doubles the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
  • Some 70 to 80 percent of people with diabetes die from heart attacks, strokes and artery disease.

Although researchers have identified the link between blood sugar and cardiovascular disease, they aren't sure lowering the readings can reduce the risks.

The first study reviewed data from some 10,000 Britons ages 45-79, including several hundred with diabetes. They were studied for six years and were given a test that, with one reading, reveals a person's average blood sugar for the past two to three months. Readings below 7 percent are considered normal, and those higher usually mean a person has diabetes.

But researchers found trouble even at levels below 7 percent. Most people in the study had readings of 5 percent or more, and for every one percentage-point increase over 5 percent, the risk of cardiovascular problems rose 21 percent, and the risk of death increased by a similar amount.

The second study analyzed 13 previous studies, including 10 in people with Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of the disease (sometimes called adult onset diabetes) and three studies of Type 1 diabetes, which usually starts in childhood. In Type 2 diabetes, for every one percentage-point increase in glycosylated hemoglobin, there was an 18 percent increase in the risk for heart disease or stroke, and a 28 percent increase in the risk for artery disease in the legs.

Those studies match the problems I've seen in patients whose diets include sugar and grains. If your blood sugar levels remain elevated, even mildly, over a period of time, your risk of diabetes will increase. And, if you end up with diabetes, by the way, your risk of cancer also increases.

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New York Times September 21, 2004

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