The Centers for Disease Control estimates that by 2050, one in three Americans will have diabetes. One thing that diabetic patients need to do is monitor their glucose levels (AKA blood sugar). Being vigilant about glucose levels isn’t easy and can have a person with diabetes wondering if all the trouble is worth it. Well, it is. Studies have shown that controlling glucose levels prevents diabetic retinopathy, kidney disease and lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) Trial Eye Study began in 2001. One portion of the study dealt with glycemic control. The experimental group reduced their A1C levels to 6.4 percent compared to 7.7 percent among those in the study who were receiving the standard glycemic control therapy. For those without diabetes, the normal A1C levels are 4 to 6 percent.
Having the experimental group achieve this A1C level provided additional benefits. When subjects in both groups were re-evaluated after the study ended, only 5.8 percent of the experimental had diabetic retinopathy. As for those in the standard therapy group, over 12 percent of then had diabetic retinopathy.
The reason for this is known as the “legacy effect,” meaning that the blood vessels in the eye and kidneys benefit from glucose control, which in turn leads to fewer incidents of eye and kidney damage. As for cardiovascular disease risk, while the study found that benefits to the eye and kidneys manifested themselves very quickly, the effect controlling glucose has on cardiovascular health took a while to become apparent. Fifteen years after the study, the experimental group had fewer cardiac events.
So, keeping blood glucose levels as low as possible for whatever length of time a person can do it can help prevent both eye and kidney disease and help maintain cardiac health. Another study showed that just a few months of high glucose can lead to harmful protein deposits in the blood vessels. These proteins stick around and cause damage.
It is important to note that the success of the experimental group came from drugs, not lifestyle and diet changes. So, making healthy diet and exercise choices in addition to medication can help lower A1C even more and improve overall health. When examining diabetic patients, be sure to stress the importance of keeping A1C low, eating right and exercising. While it takes a while for the benefits of glucose control to show up, patients need to understand that the benefits are long lasting.