A remarkable new study done at the University of California Davis Health System has identified the reason that diabetes and heart disease are so intimately connected. Specifically, UC reserachers have shown that a biological pathway is activated when blood sugars are abnormally high, leading to cardiac arrhythmia – irregular heartbeats – which can cause heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
Heart disease is of course common in the general population. But according to the National Institutes of Health, the risk is four times greater for diabetics. The American Heart Association estimates that at least 65 percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke and has emphasized the need for research focused on understanding this relationship.
The UC Davis study showed that when blood glucose levels are abnormally high, a specific sugar molecule in heart muscle cells fuses to a protein known as CaMKII. This protein plays a vital role in regulating calcium levels, electrical activity, and pumping action of the heart. The sugar molecule caused the CaMKII to become overactive, causing changes in the finely tuned calcium signaling system it controls. This was shown to trigger full-blown arrhythmias in minutes.
Scientists have understood for quite some time that CaMKII plays a critical role in heart function. This study however, is the first to identify how hyperglycemia activates CaMKII. “The novel molecular understanding we have uncovered paves the way for new therapeutic strategies that protect the heart health of patients with diabetes,” said Donald Bers, chair of the UC Davis Department of Pharmacology and senior author of the study.
In an additional experiment, the team found elevated levels of the fused CaMKII in both hearts and brains of deceased humans who were diagnosed with diabetes. The highest levels were found in the hearts of patients who had both heart failure and diabetes.
“This represents the most clear-cut mechanistic study to date of how high glucose can directly affect the function of a critical regulatory protein,” said Hart. “The Bers group’s findings undoubtedly will lead to development of treatments for diabetic cardiovascular disease and, potentially, therapeutics for glucose toxicity in other tissues that are affected by diabetes such as the retina, the nervous system and the kidney.”
What can you do to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease from diabetes?
Studies have shown that the higher your blood sugar is, the higher your risk for developing diabetic heart disease. Take precautions and keep an eye on your blood sugar levels.
- Reach and stay at a healthy weight
- Check your blood glucose levels regularly
- Take your prescribed medication as directed to control your blood glucose levels
- Exercise regularly to lose weight and burn excess blood glucose
- Maintain an appropriate diet for your disease