Increased risk of heart failure in diabetics explained: Scientists have discovered how excess fat disrupts the energy system in heart cells
03/07/2019 // Rita Winters // Views

The heart is what drives us, literally. Your heart is the engine that constantly pumps blood, which fuels the rest of your body. Over time, your lifestyle dictates the path your health takes. People with unhealthy choices usually end up having one or more diseases, which subsequently lead to more diseases. Obesity, a lifestyle disease, plagues the world and affects billions of people annually. While this disease may be terminal by itself, it can lead to more terminal illnesses, including diseases of the heart.

A breakthrough in heart science

Diabetes is known to significantly increase the risk of heart failure, and a study published in the January 2018 issue of Circulation Research shows us why. Researchers at the University of Iowa Health Care found that excess fat in the heart, which is a common effect of diabetes and obesity, can harm the heart cell's ability to produce its energy. The heart consumes a plethora of fuel molecules, which includes glucose, lactate, and ketone bodies. However, people with diabetes often experience a poor metabolic adaptability which causes heart cells to overuse fat as a fuel for energy. Researchers of the new study demonstrated how increasing the amount of fat (or lipid) that the heart consumes leads to changes in the structure and function of the mitochondria (powerhouse) of the heart cells. These mitochondrion are in charge of consuming the fuel cells in order to produce energy, which in diabetes, fails.

The researchers of the study genetically modified mice to mimic the increased fatty acid uptake, or lipid overload as in diabetes. A new 3-D electron microscope made by German engineers was used in cellular imaging so researchers can observe the changes in the mitochondrion. The mouse model shows that the lipid uptake to the heart has been doubled – this resulted in a thinner and more twisted mitochondria in the heart cells. Prolonged lipid overload tends to increase the level of damaging substances, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS disrupts the mitochondrial function by changing many important proteins that control and manage the size and shape of the powerhouse. The study concludes that cardiac lipid overload disrupts the normal mitochondrial structure and impairs energy production and compromise heart function.


No obesity, no diabetes, no heart disease

Many studies have associated having diabetes with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. While some people tend to develop heart diseases without the presence of diabetes, it is vital to keep diabetes out of the way. Diabetes can be inherited, but it is also a metabolic consequence of poor lifestyle choices. The risk of diabetes also greatly increases if a person is obese. In order to lower down the risk of developing diabetes, people should choose natural, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, and decrease the intake of highly-processed foods and high carbohydrates (white bread, rice, etc). Furthermore, physical activity should also be done as often as possible, so the body does not stagnate from a sedentary life. People with a family history of diabetes should avoid sugary foods and foods that have high carbohydrate content, since carbohydrates are sugars when processed by the body. With the right attitude towards health, people can avoid becoming obese, avoid diabetes, and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

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