Diabetic hearts make unhealthy switch to high-fat diet

The high-fat "diet" that diabetic heart muscle consumes helps make cardiovascular disease the most common killer of diabetic patients, according to a study done at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study will appear in the February 7 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and is now available online.

Sixty-five percent of people with diabetes die from heart attack or stroke. When the researchers investigated fuel consumption in heart muscle, they found that heart muscle of type 1 diabetic patients relies heavily on fat and very little on sugar for its energy needs. In contrast, heart muscle in non-diabetics doesn't have this strong preference for fat and can use either sugar (glucose) or fat for energy, depending on blood composition, hormone levels or how hard the heart is working.

"The diabetic heart's overdependence on fat could partly explain why diabetic patients suffer more pronounced manifestations of coronary artery disease," says senior author Robert J. Gropler, M.D., professor of radiology, medicine and biomedical engineering and director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Laboratory at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at the School of Medicine. "The heart needs to use much more oxygen to metabolize fats than glucose, making the diabetic heart more sensitive to drops in oxygen levels that occur with coronary artery blockage."

Compared to non-diabetics, diabetic patients often have larger infarctions and suffer more heart failure and sudden death when the heart experiences an ischemic (low-oxygen) event.

In addition, when the diabetic heart burns fat, it accumulates reactive oxygen molecules that interfere with the fuel consumption mechanism and encourage the accumulation of fats in the muscle cells. This can lead to increased inflammation, cell death and heart dysfunction.

The diabetic heart's reliance on fat molecules for energy was previously observed in experi

Contact: Gwen Ericson
Washington University School of Medicine

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