Lifestyle Changes could Keep Diabetics Free From Heart Disease

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Diabetics at risk for heart disease can reduce risk factors with intensive lifestyle interventions, shown in a study that included 5,145 overweight or obese type 2 diabetics. The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Research Group compared weight loss among individuals who practiced lifestyle changes to a group provided educational materials. The results show long-term benefits for weight loss, lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar control through activity and dietary changes.

Two groups of diabetics were studied. One group was assigned to the lifestyle intervention group and invited to attend three educational meetings each year, focused on diet, activity and social support that included 2,575 participants. The lifestyle intervention group was designed to help patients reduce weight by 7 percent of body weight in the first year, with the goal of maintaining weight loss and included 2,570 participants.

Lifestyle Intervention Benefits for Diabetics Measureable

The study spanned four years. Participants in the lifestyle intervention group were contacted by phone and seen monthly. The benefits for reducing risk of heart disease were measureable with changes in body weight; lower hemoglobin A1c levels that measures blood sugar control, improved level of good HDL cholesterol and better overall fitness.

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For the group given educational materials, medications to treat cholesterol lowered LDL or bad cholesterol levels. “Although the differences between the two groups were greatest initially and decreased over time for several measures, the differences between the groups averaged across the four years were substantial and indicate that the intensive lifestyle intervention group spent a considerable time at lower cardiovascular disease risk,” according to the authors.

The changes from intensive lifestyle interventions seen with increased physical activity and dietary modifications should translate to lower risk of heart disease, though the researchers note “These results will not be available for several additional years".

Observational studies have shown that weight loss, keeping blood sugar levels under control, reducing blood pressure and improved good HDL cholesterol levels have long-term benefits for lowering the chances of diabetic heart disease. The study is the first to measure the long-term benefits of lifestyle approaches for lowering risk factors for heart disease among diabetics.

(Arch Intern Med. 2010;170[17]:1566-1575

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