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HEALTH ARTICLES

How Are Cholesterol and Diabetes Related?

Max Lab

Jan 01, 1970

Cholesterol and type-2 diabetes are the two most common lifestyle diseases that affect people today. Diabetes is a condition in which a person has high blood sugar levels. It refers to an impairment in the way the person’s body regulates or uses glucose, which leads to excessive levels of glucose circulating in the bloodstream. On the other hand, cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the blood and is used to build healthy cells. High cholesterol levels refer to increased amounts of LDL and/or triglycerides and put a person at higher risk of developing several heart-related problems. High cholesterol can also lead to the narrowing of the arteries and even complete blockage.

Understanding High Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

Before getting into how high cholesterol and diabetes are related, it is important to understand what these conditions entail:

Cholesterol

A waxy, fat-like substance in the body, cholesterol helps make hormones and vitamin D and helps the digestion process. Apart from being produced in the body itself, cholesterol is also found in several food sources. There are 3 types of cholesterol found in a person’s body:

  • Low-Density-Lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as bad cholesterol, high LDL levels can lead to fat build-ups on artery walls, resulting in the narrowing or complete blocking of the blood vessels.
  • High-Density-Lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as good cholesterol, HDL plays an important role in protecting the body from a number of severe health issues and helps in the removal of LDL from the body.
  • Triglycerides: The most common type of fat in the body, these store excess energy from the diet. Increased levels of triglycerides can cause fatty build-ups within the arteries.

Causes of High Cholesterol

High levels of LDL and triglycerides, combined with low levels of HDL are referred to as high cholesterol and can be caused by:

  • Improper diet with excessive calories and carbohydrates
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Abdominal fat gain
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Other factors that can increase the risk of developing high cholesterol include:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Kidney-related issues
  • Liver disease
  • Familial hypercholesterolaemia (a rare genetic condition)

Consistently high cholesterol levels can lead to severe issues like a heart attack or stroke. That is why many people may even be prescribed a commercial blood cholesterol-lowering agent to manage the condition.

Diabetes

Diabetes, also called blood sugar, is a chronic condition where the glucose levels in the blood are much higher than they should be. This generally happens when a person’s body cannot produce enough insulin, or their cells become resistant to it. There are three types of diabetes – type-1 (caused by an autoimmune reaction), type-2 (a lifestyle disease that develops over years), and gestational diabetes (develops in pregnant women).

Causes

Type 2 diabetes has several risk factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High glucose production in the body
  • Broken beta cells

Similar to high cholesterol, high blood sugar also puts a person at a higher risk of cardiovascular issues. A high sugar level or diabetes can also lead to:

  • Eye problems
  • Foot problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage

Difference between Diabetes and Cholesterol (Sugar Vs Cholesterol)

While sugar and cholesterol levels are closely linked, there is a difference between diabetes and high cholesterol, which can be seen in the symptoms the conditions develop. High cholesterol may go undetected for a long time unless a lipid profile test is performed for screening. However:

  • Xanthomas (soft, yellowish lesions or growths on the skin) may be indicative of high cholesterol
  • People who are obese and/or have diabetes, generally have cholesterol as well
  • If cholesterol severely affects the arteries, it may lead to impotence in some men

On the other hand, as compared to cholesterol, high blood sugar has several symptoms one can look out for, which may vary with the type of diabetes one has:

  • Frequent urination (often at night)
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Increase in appetite
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensation in the hands or feet
  • Constant lethargy
  • Itchy and dry skin
  • Slower healing of wounds
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

Type-2 diabetes may take several years to show any symptoms, so adding a simple blood sugar test to the regular health check-up may prove to be a useful idea.

Relationship between Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels

Type-2 diabetes increases the risk of developing other health problems, like cholesterol-related issues. When blood sugar levels increase, the lining of the arteries starts thinning, which makes it easier for cholesterol to stick to them, which would, in turn, lead to the narrowing, and even complete blocking, of the arteries.

Blood sugar and cholesterol levels go hand in hand and people with diabetes are most likely to have high cholesterol levels as well. Together, cholesterol and diabetes make one more likely to develop serious health issues.

Diabetes is signified by insulin resistance, which is the primary regulator of the body’s carbohydrate metabolism. Insulin also prevents the breakdown of fat into fatty acids. Insulin resistance can have several consequences, including an increased rate of fat breakdown, which leads to lower HDL levels and raised levels of triglycerides and LDL. The condition is known as diabetic dyslipidaemia and may require one to take a commercial blood cholesterol lowering agent to manage.

The Importance of Treating the Conditions

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular problems, like heart diseases, heart attacks, and strokes. While diabetes can lead to vision problems, dementia, and other serious issues.

For people with diabetes, it is all the more important to keep their cholesterol levels in check to ensure good health. For people who are diabetic, what is considered to be the normal range for cholesterol levels is generally lower than what it is for people without diabetes.

Tracking Cholesterol and Diabetes

If any symptoms of high blood sugar develop, one should consult a doctor, who will be able to prescribe screening tests to diagnose the issue.

Given the close relationship between cholesterol and diabetes, people with high blood sugar should include a cholesterol test in their regular health check-ups.

Managing Cholesterol and Diabetes with Diet and Other Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with ample exercise and a proper diet is crucial for diabetes and cholesterol management.

  • Ensure a Healthy Diet: There are various foods to help control cholesterol and diabetes. One should consult their doctor or nutritionist for a proper diet plan suitable for their health and risk factors.
  • Stay Active: Regular physical activity is important for metabolism and utilising the energy generated by the body.
  • Lose Weight: Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for developing severe issues.
  • Quit Smoking
  • Avoid Excessive Consumption of Alcohol

Type-2 diabetes and high cholesterol are closely-linked lifestyle diseases. If not taken care of on time, they can lead to several complications. That is why it is critical to managing them responsibly for a better quality of life.

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