Diabetics: blood-sugar control may not protect your heart

Managing blood sugar levels can help diabetics avoid serious health complications, like blindness, kidney failure or nerve damage.

But a new international study turns conventional wisdom about diabetes and cardiovascular health on its head: The research found that short-term blood sugar control has a limited effect on the risk for cardiovascular problems in diabetic patients. The findings support a growing body of evidence that suggests heart disease or stroke can't be avoided by controlling blood sugar alone.

The study

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Hadassah Medical Centre in Israel examined how the drug saxagliptin - a new class of medicine that helps to lower blood sugar - affected patients with type 2 diabetes. More than 16,000 patients were studied over a two-year period, during which the team assessed saxagliptin's ability to not only lower blood sugar, but to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and kidney damage.

The trial was the largest diabetes study ever carried out, reaching 788 sites across 26 countries.

Surprising Results

Despite the drug's ability to lower blood sugar, researchers didn't find a reduced risk for major cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke.

"There was no significant benefit from lowering blood sugar levels with respect to the large blood vessels, which contribute to heart attacks and strokes," Professor Kausik Ray, lead study author, said in a statement.

Kausik went on to explain that the patients did show improvement in smaller vessels that contribute to kidney disease. Overall, he concluded, the study suggests that cardiovascular risk factors in diabetics must be addressed in other ways.

"The most effective way to manage cardiovascular disease is through established interventions such as reducing blood pressure, managing cholesterol and encouraging healthier lifestyles," he said.

Results of the study can be found in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: St. George's University of London

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