Getting Motivated by Science to Avoid Diabetic-Related Heart Disease

April 8, 2014 in Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

Today I’m celebrating differences. I must admit that there have been times that I wished that some of my friends loved science and math as much as I do. I wished that I could share with them the beauty that I see in both science and math. But today I’ve reminded myself that the reason that we are all so different is that we each can spend significant time developing in one area and our friends can develop in other areas and together we can bring benefit to each other.

The above thought process began while I was reading an epidemiologic study that was lead by a woman, Grainne Long at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine. What she and the others in her study learned was that adopting healthier behaviors in newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetics may do as much or more than using medication in preventing heart problems. One reason this study caught my attention is that is exactly what happened to Dr. Grandpa, Victor Bunderson, my husband (psychometrician – lover of science and math). When he was first diagnosed with diabetes, he was determined to do his very best to combat the disease. Certainly, his stance may have been unusual. Together we went to a class at the hospital; where we encountered some who flat out proclaimed that they did not believe they had diabetes. “It was a mistake”; one claimed. Others were making plans and talking about how they could ‘cheat’ on their diet. Others said the chance of them changing their eating was somewhere between slim and impossible. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, Victor had friends and relatives who had lost limbs, kidneys, and eyesight to diabetes; so he was set for his best endeavor to battle the disease from the beginning. I’m more than glad that he dug in, learned, and committed to change some significant behaviors. (Post Script: It’s been almost ten years since he ended his four-and-a-half-months of taking metformin and began maintaining his blood sugar with dietary and exercise changes alone. It’s not always easy for him to pass on a big bowl of homemade ice cream – O.K. it’s never easy, but even as an ice cream lover, he has stuck with his self-imposed limits. But the payoff is that he continues to keep his weight off and to fight off diabetes and its ugly relative, heart disease.)

The study at Cambridge found that those who changed nothing about their habits compared to people who adopted three or four healthier behaviors were four times (that’s 400 percent) more likely to have a cardiac event. If you don’t love numbers/math, take it from me these numbers are very impressive. These numbers should motivate many to take steps to begin making new habits, new behaviors whether you have diabetes or not.

To begin with and according to the American Diabetes Association there are nearly 26 million Americans with diabetes. But don’t be too unconcerned if you don’t have it; as 70 million have pre-diabetes and many don’t know it (pushing toward three times the number that already have it.)

Because diabetics are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or die of heart disease compared to people without diabetes, the researchers followed 867 newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetics for an average of five years to learn if adopting healthy behaviors was linked to a decrease in heart disease. The participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 years old, and they were divided into two groups with the same age range within each group. One group got more intensive education. This education included how to choose a healthy diet, how to reduce or stop alcohol consumption, how to increase fiber and vitamin C intake and decrease fat and calories.  It also taught how to increase physical activity; quit smoking and how to be dependable in taking prescribed medications.

This is where the math comes in.  They found a strong inverse correlation with the number of changed behaviors and decrease in cardiac events. You don’t need to know the math to appreciate that with each increase in number of behaviors changed, the groups had less and less heart disease. And that’s where the 400 percent number came from.  Those who changed just one health behavior or none at all were about 400 percent (4 times) more likely to have a cardiovascular event than those who changed three or four behaviors.

This particular research found that it did not make a difference if the participants were men or women, were from different social groups, young or old, or taking several or few medications. It worked across the board. If you love the numbers and the science you can read the study published in Diabetes Care.

But if you are focusing on your own area of expertise, you can trust those who love science. To do so, just keep your focus on remodeling any health behaviors that can assist you in enjoying the great feeling and accomplishments of vibrant good health. Places to start:

  • Reduce calorie intake; especially if you need to lose some weight.
  • Increase your intake of fiber and vitamin C. That is what the study measured, but I’d say more fruits and vegetables. Certainly, this will help with the first goal – calorie reduction. By increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, you automatically increase your vitamin C and fiber; doing so with low calorie foods. Choosing whole grains is another way of increasing fiber, but you need to control how many servings of grains are consumed. It has the fiber and nutrients but also more calories.
  • Decreasing fat – especially trans and saturated fat. Changing the fat that you use is one place to start. Extra virgin olive oil and canola oil are good choices.
  • Don’t forget your exercise – exercise is at least half the equation.
  • Avoid too much alcohol and quit smoking. This advice is easy to understand as very important.  But for some, it is not at all that easy to accomplish. Some will need counseling and group assistance; some of the new medications may be helpful; others can make it with less help. For all, remember that it is possible to change these harmful behaviors. Keep trying.
  • Take your prescribed meds – don’t quit meds unless your doctor tests your blood sugar, it’s in control and he/she says it fine to wean off or stop taking the meds.

So whether you love math and science or not, or have diabetes or not, you may want to consider moving some of your health behaviors in a direction that may support a healthier heart.