A novel study has indicated that middle-aged adults with good heart health are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, a condition that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
The investigation led by researchers at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University Medical Centre signified how crucial heart health is in preventing type two diabetes. The team discovered that favourable cardiovascular health mitigated the chances of developing the condition, regardless of an individual’s genetic predisposition to it.
The team defined favourable heart health as having a healthy body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, being a non-smoker, eating a balanced diet, and being physically active. The findings of the study are published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
Dr Fariba Ahmadizar, the author of the study from Erasmus University Medical Centre, said: “While genetics do contribute to the probability of developing type 2 diabetes, the findings indicate that maintaining healthy lifestyle habits, and especially having a healthy body weight, can help lower the lifetime risk of the condition.”
Examining the influence of heart health
Currently, there are around 463 million adults around the world who have diabetes, which results in the spending of $760bn each year to treat patients with the condition, equating to 10% of the global health expenditure. To investigate how to mitigate diabetes, the team analysed 5,993 participants of a population-based study in Rotterdam who were all free of type 2 diabetes at baseline.
Each individual received a cardiovascular health score of 0 to 12 based on body mass index (BMI), blood cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking status, diet, and physical activity at baseline, with higher scores corresponding to better heart health. From this score, the participants were split into three categories of cardiovascular health according to their score: poor (0-5), intermediate (6-7) and ideal (8-12).
Subsequently, the researchers evaluated genetic predisposition to type two diabetes by utilising 403 independent genetic variants associated with the condition to produce a genetic risk score. The individuals were then categorised as low, intermediate, or high genetic risk.
Findings from the study
The researchers’ findings highlighted that 869 of the participants developed type 2 diabetes during 69,208 person-years of follow-up , which allowed the team to estimate and compare the lifetime risk for the condition within the heart health and genetic risk categories.
The team identified a lower lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes for participants with better heart health; for example, at aged 55, those with ideal cardiovascular health had a 22.6% risk of developing the condition, whereas those with intermediate and poor cardiovascular health had 28.3% and 32.6%, respectively.
When factoring in genetic risk, the lifetime risk for diabetes was still lower in those with better heart health. At age 55, the remaining lifetime risk of diabetes in the high genetic risk group was 23.5% for individuals with ideal cardiovascular health, compared to 33.7% for intermediate and 38.7% for poor. Furthermore, the same correlations were also demonstrated within the low and intermediate genetic risk groups.
Ahmadizar said: “Our results highlight the importance of favourable heart health in preventing type 2 diabetes among middle-aged adults regardless of whether they are genetically at high or low risk of the condition. In other words, a healthy lifestyle is associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes within any genetic risk category. The findings applied equally to men and women and indicate that healthy habits in midlife are an effective strategy for avoiding diabetes later on.”