Diabetes and Heart Disease

Diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease. This should be well-known information for diabetics, as it impacts their lifestyle. While the diagnosis itself changes day-to-day living with insulin dependence, one thing remains the same: a heart-healthy lifestyle is recommended for all.

Keys to Healthy Living

Everyone should strive to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. Its advantages proffer a better quality of life and more longevity. The following are general guidelines:

  • Mitigate bad cholesterol levels (LDL)—these levels are increased as a result of fried foods, highly processed meals, and overly sugary, salty, or carb-filled.
  • Increase good cholesterol levels (HDL)—these levels are increased as a result of plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, legumes, etc.
  • Seek consistent, daily activity—30 minutes a day is recommended.
  • Get adequate rest (7-8 hours a night)
  • Reduce stress

These are basic and oft-cited tenets of a healthy lifestyle. Those same preventative measures are used to mitigate the impact that lifelong diseases have because the body can only function as well as we treat it. We have to give our bodies the proper fuel required to combat illness, disease, and aging.

Diabetes and Healthy Living

In the case of diabetes, insulin is a necessary medication to help the body function optimally, but a healthy lifestyle will help reduce the impact of the disease on the body and protect organs. The biggest concern for diabetics is the heart.

How does Diabetes impact your Heart?

Diabetes is caused because the body produces too much glucose, which is the content of sugar in your bloodstream. The predominant result of this excess is in your arteries and veins—causing them to have built-up plaque (arteries) that doesn’t allow for blood to flow as freely or shrink and restrict blood flow (veins). The impact of which is severe. Just as all rivers lead to the ocean, all arteries and blood vessels end up at the heart, the primary organ of our body. So, when fatty deposits bog down arteries or vessels shrink, the heart becomes compromised.

While there are a lot of things that can produce plaque buildup, the link for diabetics is the blood sugar (glucose) levels that will do this. Other factors include cholesterol levels: LDL and HDL. Your blood is multi-functional but carries with it the nutrients and vitamins to other areas of your body where it’s needed. When the blood becomes oversaturated with glucose, it disrupts the heart’s ability to pump sufficiently and effectively transfer necessary nutrients.

Additional factors that compromise the heart function:

  • High blood pressure: this is the force at which blood moves through your arteries. Moving too quickly in such a small location can damage the walls of your arteries and lead to heart problems. Imagine a hose that gets a sudden burst from the house. It could rupture at the hook-up site, or later on down if it hits a kink or a snag. Visualizing this way can help you understand why high blood pressure is such a problem. What you eat has the largest impact on your blood pressure.
  • Smoking: Smoking isn’t good for anyone but it damages the heart function by plaque buildup in the arteries, as well as its primary impact, which affects your lung function. Your organs all depend on each other, so if one of them is overly struggling, such as the lungs, this can push an extra load on the heart to try and help compensate. While the heart muscle is strong, it’s already got a pretty good load, and if you aren’t helping strengthen it, the heart can’t do its job.
  • Being Overweight: When your body carries an extra weight that isn’t intended for its frame or function, the heart has to work extra hard to function normally. That effort over time wears out the heart and makes it more likely to give out. There are some general rules for BMI or waist size that you can reference to know whether you’re at a truly healthy weight, but it’s important to discuss with your doctor because diet trends and fads can also be very dangerous for your health.
  • Family History: Genetics can impact our health more than we might like, but if you have any direct line history that has also suffered heart problems, you are at an increased risk. Talking with your family and understanding your circumstances can help you plan for the future.
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption: This contributes to high blood pressure and heart rate, which dually weaken the heart muscle and can lead to eventual failure.

The Golden Rule for Health

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule. The idea is that 80% of something is ideal and 20% can be compromised. If you factor this in for your diet, 80% should be strictly healthy and regimented, but 20% can be less than ideal and it’s not going to ruin your health over it. The overarching concept for this is moderation. A lot of people do have the discipline to be extremely healthy and consistent every day of their lives. That might not be feasible for everyone because we all have different circumstances. Focusing on the majority of your time and allowing yourself leeway less often can help so that you don’t feel entirely restricted from enjoyment, but that you also have a healthy amount of control and discipline.

How do I know if my heart function is compromised?

Only medical tests can help you understand how healthy your heart currently is. Blood tests can indicate your LDL and HDL levels which can help you understand the build-up of plaque in your arteries. The higher the HDL levels the better your heart function. The higher your LDL, the worse your heart function.

What people with diabetes should be aware of is that most of these healthy heart indicators aren’t visible. So you wouldn’t know if you do or do not have issues unless you are actively tracking your health. Unfortunately, when you do start seeing symptoms of poor heart function, it’s likely trending more towards heart failure. While heart failure sounds serious, and it is, it doesn’t mean your heart can’t function, just that your heart isn’t able to pump blood through your body as a healthy heart would. Knowing your proclivity to heart failure early on can help combat it.

**If you’re concerned about heart failure and notice any swelling in your legs or have difficulty breathing, this could be a result of increased fluid retention in the body and could require medical intervention. Please reach out to your doctor to ensure your heart’s stability.**

Prevention is Key

It’s estimated that a diabetic might be just as likely to have a stroke as someone who has already suffered one. Other sources claim they are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease than the unaffected population. This information might come as a shock or be a bit jarring to digest, but it’s not a definitive future, just a possibility, and one that can be avoided. So, let’s cover the basics of prevention!

  1. Good sleep—Sleep is what helps your body recover from the day’s activities. Adequate and restful sleep allows the body and mind to reset after being asked to perform at full capacity. If you aren’t sleeping well enough, there is truly no substitute to heal your body. Adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. There are supplements to help with sleep such as melatonin, and there are also nighttime vitamins that help your body with recovery. Discuss with your doctor if these would be beneficial to your lifestyle.
  2. Diet—Diet has the greatest impact on our health second to rest. A good diet fuels the body by providing the nutrients required to function optimally. If you never replaced your car’s oil, it might continue working for a while, but eventually, the hoses would gunk up and stop pushing fluids to their proper places. Diets that are high in saturated fats or salts and sugars are the biggest offenders in the body, gunking up our arteries and shrinking blood vessels because the blood can’t shake the excess sufficiently. It can only work off of what it is provided, so be conscientious of what you ingest.
  3. Water Intake—Drinking sufficient amounts of water for the day is still one of the best things for your body. Our bodies are comprised of mostly water; so becoming dehydrated can impact everything else inside. Did you know that you could survive for longer without food than without water? It’s that important. Water helps purge our systems of impurities and ensures proper function.
  4. Exercise—Exercise is such a pivotal part of overall health. The body was created to move, not sit. It wasn’t intended for long-term Netflix binges and deskwork as our society is already too familiar. Studies indicate that just 30 minutes of daily activity can help prevent diseases. This doesn’t have to be anything huge, but consistency is key. Walking is one of the best exercises for your heart, or anything that increases blood oxygen levels. Swimming is a great alternative for anyone who struggles with joint pain as this can reduce strain.
  5. Medication—Regular and consistent use of your prescribed medication and typical scheduled doctor visits will also aid your efforts. Your medical team can help you get a handle on prevention and guide you to make changes if something isn’t working, or you need more attention in another area.

    If you need to get more information on your heart, a cardiologist can help. EKG or an exercise/stress test can help a doctor pinpoint your heart function as a diabetic and put together a plan to ensure you’re living your best life.

  1. Decrease Stress—Stress in the body has a real and visceral impact. While experiencing stress is much more internal, its effects can be largely external. It’s important to reduce the stress you can in life to give your body the best health possible. Meditation has been proven as the best way to reduce stress, but meditation can also be a challenging mental and emotional exercise. If you struggle, other forms of stress reduction include relaxing baths, massages, or therapy. Anything that’s able to get stressful feelings out of your body, can keep them from staying in and causing physical ailments.

The risks of diabetes and heart disease

They’re unpleasant to talk about but necessary to motivate you toward change. If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to die from heart disease than your similarly aged cohorts. Age is also a vital factor here because you’re more than twice as likely to die from heart disease, at twice as young.

The impact of diabetes and heart disease on the body cannot be overstated. Sometimes it might feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle because everything is against you. Support is needed to overcome the challenges you may be facing both medical and emotional. Having a good team of doctors behind you as well as a personal support system whether through family, friends, or therapists can alter the course of your health. When you have good goals and have support to help you achieve those goals, you have a better chance of success.


While diabetes may impact your risk for heart disease, you’re not destined to have heart failure or stroke. Focus on the things you can control like your lifestyle changes and consistent medication use (as prescribed by your doctor). These will have the greatest impact on your quality of life and longevity.