Women With Diabetes Have Higher Heart Disease Risk Than Men

| July 31, 2014

There was a time when a woman’s concerns about coronary heart disease were all about how it might affect the man in her life. Women were seen as being much less at risk than men, due to the protective influence of oestrogen. But we now know that the reality is quite different. In the general population, women are equally as likely as men to suffer a heart attack. And, when it comes to people with diabetes, new research has revealed that women are actually 44 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease than men.

This worrying figure comes from a systematic review and meta-analysis of some 850,000 people, carried out jointly by researchers in Australia and at the University of Cambridge1. In the largest ever review of its kind, they examined data from 64 separate studies, stretching back almost 50 years and including 858,507 people and 28,203 heart attacks. The results of their number crunching show that women with diabetes are almost three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than women without diabetes, while men with diabetes are around twice as likely to have heart disease as men without diabetes.

Combining the two sets of data showed that women with diabetes are 44 per cent more vulnerable to coronary heart disease than men with diabetes, after other cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. smoking, blood pressure and cholesterol levels) are taken into consideration. And when it comes to deaths from coronary heart disease, women with diabetes fare even worse, with a 46 per cent greater risk than men with diabetes. Nor is the increased risk limited to heart attacks – a parallel review by the same researchers found that the risk of stroke is 27 per cent higher in women with diabetes than in men with diabetes2.

The authors of these studies speculate that the higher cardiovascular risks in women may be related to them having to deteriorate metabolically further than men before becoming diabetic, so they are at a worse starting point when diabetes is diagnosed. In addition, in the pre-diabetic state – where glucose tolerance may already be impaired but all the diagnostic criteria of diabetes are not yet met – the levels of risk factors such as body mass index tend to be higher in women than in men.

It certainly seems that, even in people without diabetes, men’s and women’s hearts are very different (and not only emotionally). In women after the menopause, the level of blood triglycerides is more important as a marker for heart disease risk than it is in men. Having metabolic syndrome raises cardiovascular risks more in women than in men. And women who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack as male smokers.

Take good care of your heart

So, if you are a woman with diabetes, you really need to look after your heart. That doesn’t mean getting a prescription for statins from your doctor. These drugs come with dreadful side effects and are virtually useless in people who haven’t already had a heart attack. Opt instead for a heart-friendly regimen of diet and exercise. In particular:

  • Don’t smoke!
  • Avoid sugar and eat a low GL diet. Sugar doesn’t only make controlling your diabetes more difficult, it also independently raises your heart disease risk.
  • Get enough exercise. It lowers your blood sugar and blood pressure and improves your blood fat profile, all things that reduce heart disease risk.
  • Don’t sit for long periods. No matter how often you exercise, the time you spend sitting raises the odds of heart disease. Take regular breaks.
  • Ignore the low-fat dogma. A good mix of healthy fats, including some saturated fat e.g. from butter, is best for heart health.
  • In particular, eat oily fish, walnuts and linseeds, to get the heart protecting benefits of their omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Take supplements of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), co-enzyme Q10, vitamin C and vitamin D; all have been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks.
  • Keep your blood pressure within a healthy range. Berberine (see here), garlic and magnesium all provide safe and natural means to do this.

Research shows that high sugar consumption could be more dangerous for your heart than eating saturated fats. Now, the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has recommended halving our average sugar intake, from ten to five per cent of total calories. While this looks like a step in the right direction, in my next blog post I shall tell you why the Committee’s recommendations don’t go nearly far enough.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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1. Peters SA, Huxley RR, Woodward M. Diabetes as risk factor for incident coronary heart disease in women compared with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 64 cohorts including 858,507 individuals and 28,203 coronary events. Diabetologia. 2014; 57(8):1542-1551.

2. Peters SA, Huxley RR, Woodward M. Diabetes as a risk factor for stroke in women compared with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 64 cohorts, including 775,385 individuals and 12,539 strokes. Lancet. 2014; 383(9933):1973-1980.

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Category: Diabetes and Heart Disease

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