Diabetes gets a lot of press nowadays-which, fortunately, has prompted many patients to take greater care to control their blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, reducing blood sugar won't offer much in the way of protection against cardiovascular disease. This is a very real risk for people with diabetes... and one that few seem to grasp. A recent national survey reported that "a startling" 82% of people with type 2 diabetes are unaware of this connection-and that's of even greater concern given the findings of a study from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada) that evaluated how diabetes impacts stroke risk in the first five years post-diagnosis. The study was published in the journal Stroke.

Thomas Jeerakathil, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the university, was the lead author of this first study examining· the link between stroke risk and diabetes immediately after diagnosis and initiation of treatment previous studies had evaluated longer-term impact, 10 to 15 years later. Since both stroke and heart attack stem from the same set of problems, Dr. Jeerakathil notes that although this study specifically concerned stroke, it is likely that the risk for heart attack is very similar. A total of 12,272 people recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were monitored for a period of five years, with the finding that diabetes doubles the risk of stroke within that time. That risk is even more dramatic for those aged 30 to 44-their relative risk is fivefold over those who don't have diabetes.

Controlling blood sugar doesn't fight heart disease

Previous research suggests that a focus on blood sugar control alone does little to stem cardiovascular risks-so Dr. Jeerakathil stresses that people with diabetes should also make living a heart-healthy lifestyle a priority, right from the start. It's important to maintain an optimum blood pressure level, a healthy weight and waist-to-hip ratio, follow a low-fat diet and get plenty of exercise.

Dr. Jeerakathil believes statins (cholesterol reducing medications) are in order for many people with diabetes, since the diagnosis itself puts them in the same CVD risk category as people who've had at least one heart attack. For those who have already had a stroke or heart attack, he strongly recommends statins. It is possible to balance cholesterol naturally, without risk of the side effects associated with statin use. A naturopathic physician can provide support and expertise in improving diet, lifestyle and using nutritional supplements to meet health goals. . . and work collaboratively with other members of your team-ideally a cardiologist to manage CVD risk and an endocrinologist to monitor your diabetes-to help make sure you live long and well.

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