Living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes increases the risk for developing some health problems that may seem only marginally connected to the fluctuating level of your blood sugar. Heart attack and stroke, for example, may not seem to be related to diabetes, but they are the two leading causes of death among people with diabetes.
This means you need to watch your lipids (which is the name for a collection of fats, including cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein)). These are the fats made by the body that circulate in the blood stream.
Having increased levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. On the other hand, HDL (the “good” cholesterol) protects your heart. People who have high levels of HDL cholesterol have a reduced risk of heart disease.
“More than 80 percent of those with diabetes have elevated blood-fat levels,” says Dr. Om P. Ganda, associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and head of the lipids clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center.
We recommend getting a lipids screening once a year, to ensure your lipids level is a healthy one. A lipids screen measures your total cholesterol, your LDL and your HDL levels. This test also measures your triglycerides (another type of bad fat) levels, providing a more complete picture of your heart health.
Those of you without a history of heart problems should aim for an LDL of less than 100–the lower, the better.
Those with a heart history should strive to get your LDL below 70. Every 40-milligram decrease reduces the risk of cardiovascular complications by 20 to 30 percent.
Triglycerides levels should be lower than 150.
Once you’ve lowered your LDL and triglycerides levels, work to ensure your HDL cholesterol–the good one–is in a healthy range. This is 40 or higher in men and 50 or higher in women.
If you’re struggling with your cholesterol levels, you could benefit from an appointment with a nutritionist or doctor to discuss and make changes, to reduce the saturated fat in your diet and help you lose weight if necessary.
“There are several ways to lower blood fat levels,” says Dr. Ganda. “These include: diet; exercise; weight reduction, if necessary; blood-glucose control; and one of the several medications that are available.
By keeping cholesterol levels within the desirable range, one can substantially reduce the risk of heart disease.”
For more information:
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- Our other blogs on diabetes
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- More about the Joslin Diabetes Center