Written by: Emily J., MSc RD
Reviewed by: Dr. Vimal Ramjee, MD, FACC
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February is heart health month, and we’re covering all things cardiac health. Each week, we’re tackling a topic related to the connection between your heart and metabolic health and giving you tips on how to protect your heart via exercise, nutrition, and stress management.
When we talk about our metabolic health and the progression of metabolic conditions, we often mention things like “high risk of cardiovascular disease” or “increased cardiometabolic risk.”
But what is cardiometabolic health? And what’s the connection between glucose, insulin, and heart health?
This heart health month, we’re breaking down the surprising connection between metabolic health and heart health and explaining how you can leverage Veri’s 4 pillars to improve your heart health. Stay tuned for our weekly installments on all things heart and metabolic health.
Metabolic health refers to a cluster of symptoms that can cause poor health and increase your risk for chronic disease. These symptoms are high cholesterol, high fasting blood glucose, a large waistline, and high blood pressure.
When talking about cardiometabolic health, we’re talking about the exact same set of symptoms, but specifically, how they impact your heart and its functioning.
No matter which word we use, the risk of heart problems, diabetes, weight gain, and chronic disease are the same, and the same set of factors (like poor glucose control and insulin resistance) is a large part of the problem.
The good news is that practicing healthy habits around what you eat, how and when you exercise, stress management, and quality sleep can protect your metabolic health — and, more specifically, your heart.
Managing glucose levels can help reverse insulin resistance, support weight loss, help prevent future chronic diseases like diabetes, and protects your heart. By balancing your glucose levels and applying the same habits you do to take care of your metabolic health, you take care of your heart health as well.
If you’ve used the Veri app or are generally curious about metabolic health, you’ve likely heard that blood sugar spikes after meals are problematic because they can lead to insulin resistance.
This is true, but high blood glucose — whether it's post-meal spikes or high fasting glucose — can substantially affect your vascular system if not managed. The vascular system refers to your veins, arteries, and heart, which move blood throughout the body. Damage to the vascular system can lead to damage to your major organ systems.
But how do glucose levels cause vascular damage? Over time, repeated instances of high blood sugar, or sustained high blood sugar, can decrease the elasticity of blood vessels . When elasticity decreases, blood vessels become stiffer, which makes it more difficult for blood to pass through them. This forces the heart to work harder, and over time can cause problems like heart attack and heart failure [2, 3].
Studies show that high glucose levels and variability in non-diabetic people are risk factors of cardiovascular disease [4, 5]. One study found that in non-diabetics, higher (but still normal) fasting glucose levels are associated with an 83% increase in heart failure .
The connection between glucose and heart health is clear, and managing glucose levels can reduce your risk of cardiac events. But where does insulin fit into the picture?
Insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose, is tied to heart health, though less directly than high glucose.
One study showed that high levels of insulin were only slightly associated with heart health, but in large part, this was explained by obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol existing at the same time .
In other words, insulin resistance on its own is not causing heart issues, but rather, it’s insulin resistance combined with problems like being overweight, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that cause poor heart health.
Another study looked at experiments done on insulin resistance and sugar intake using glucose tolerance tests and found a strong relationship between intake of high fructose corn syrup and related refined carbs, elevated insulin levels, and poor heart health . The researchers suggested that intake of refined carbs affected heart health by first increasing insulin levels, illustrating how both food choice and insulin resistance can harm your heart.
The more you know about health, the more it can seem like so much to manage. But the good news is that by managing your metabolic health through glucose monitoring, good nutrition, regular exercise, quality sleep, and managing stress, you’re protecting your heart health as well.
Stay tuned for upcoming heart health month posts, where we’ll do deep dives on nutrition, sleep, and stress as they affect metabolic health and the health of your heart.