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How Excess Glucose Damages the Blood Vessels

written by: Veronica Sky • edited by: lrohner • updated: 12/15/2010

How does an excess of glucose damage vasculature? New research shows the link between excess glucose in one's body and damage to the blood vessels. Learn about why this damage occurs, the risks associated with damaged blood vessels, and what can be done to prevent these risks.

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    The Link Between Excess Glucose and Blood Vessels

    Diabetes is a disease characterized by having above-average glucose levels. But how does an excess of glucose damage vasculature? Excess glucose can attach to proteins in the blood vessels causing them to become thick and have less elasticity. Narrowed blood vessels result in a variety of problems as the blood is unable to flow through effectively.

    New studies show a formidable connection between high glucose levels and cardiovascular disease. The American Society of Hypertension states that one result of high glucose levels is a lowering of the levels of vasodilator nitric oxide within the blood vessels. Less of this chemical causes a narrowing of the blood vessels.

    Another study done at the University of Sao Paulo has also shown that excess glucose can damage the blood vessels. As glucose is processed by the body, our cells transform a majority of the glucose into an energy source known as ATP. However, about 5 percent of the all glucose is transformed into another type of energy known as O-GlcNAc. This form of energy has the ability to modify proteins.

    Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo found that in the correct amounts, O-GlcNAc works with other chemicals in the body to form a blood vessel dilator. The problem arises when there is too much of this sugar which is the case in diabetics as they have an excess of glucose. When there is too much O-GlcNAc in the body, the opposite occurs, the blood vessels contract.

    One of the lead researchers, Dr. Tostes, commented on the study. He said, “Now we are trying to see why this is happening and what comes first. Is increased blood pressure leading to changed O-GlcNAc or are augmented levels of O-GlcNAc contributing to the change we see in the vasculature of hypertensives? If we know how this changes vascular function, we can understand some of the dysfunction that we see in diabetes."

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    Damaged Blood Vessels and Your Health

    There are many risks associated with narrowed blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, about 65 percent of people with diabetes die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease. Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke, even when glucose levels are under control.

    Diabetes is the not the only condition that can cause cardiovascular disease. When your cholesterol is too high, the blood vessels become narrowed. High cholesterol levels are caused mainly by lack of exercise and proper diet as well as genetic disposition. If you have diabetes, then it is essential that you eat right and exercise regularly in order to eliminate your risk for high cholesterol levels. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. If you have heart, eye, or kidney problems from diabetes, high blood pressure can make them worse.

    Some of the problems associated with clogged blood vessels include, angina, heart attacks, strokes, or Peripheral arterial disease. Angina is just another name for chest pain. You may feel pain in your chest, arms, shoulders, or back. This pain may intensify when you engage in any sort of strenuous activity such as exercise. Lack of treatment will cause this chest pain to worsen. If you have any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately so that you can begin treatment.

    Heart attacks occur when a blood vessel near the heart is blocked. As a result, the heart muscle does not receive enough blood and that region of the muscle will stop working. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, nausea, indigestion, weakness, and sweating. Should you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek emergency medical assistance.

    Strokes occur when a blood vessel near the brain is blocked. When the blood supply to the brain is blocked, the brain can be damaged. Signs you may be experiencing a stroke include, sudden weakness or numbness of your face, arm, or leg on one side of your body, confusion, dizziness, severe headache, and trouble seeing. In the event that you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

    Peripheral arterial disease, also called PAD, occurs when blood vessels become narrow thus cutting short the blood supply to your legs and feet. This results in leg pain when you try to engage in activities such as walking or exercising. Other consequences include numbness in the legs and slow healing sores.

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    So, What Now?

    What can I do to lower my risks for cardiovascular disease? In preventing any disease, there are risks factors that we can control and others we cannot. The same holds true for cardiovascular disease in diabetics. Although factors such as an excess of glucose in one’s body, family history, and aging cannot be controlled, the good news is there are factors that one can take control of.

    The first step in preventing cardiovascular disease is to stop smoking. If you already are a smoker, now is the time to quit. If you are not a smoker, than do not start. The next step is regular exercise. Most doctors recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times per week. Talk to your doctor to work out an exercise plan that works for you. Diet is another key factor in preventing cardiovascular disease. Avoid food such as red meat, fried or greasy foods, and anything with high amounts of saturated fat. In addition to these prevention methods, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking medication to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

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    Sample contents.

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    References

    Diabetes.org: American Diabetes Association-Heart Disease

    Heart.org: American Heart Association- Cardiovascular Disease & Diabetes