Diabetes means losing an average of eight years from your expected life span, according to new research published in The Archives of Internal Medicine.
In addition, diabetics are more likely to develop heart disease sooner than people who have similar characteristics but who don't have diabetes.
"Having diabetes at age 50 and older not only represents a significant increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and mortality, but also a very important loss in life expectancy and life expectancy free from cardiovascular disease," says the lead author, Dr. Oscar H. Franco of the University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Unilever Corporate Research in Sharnbrook, England.
Closer to home, Providence cardiologist Dr. Taylor Williams says, "Seventy-five percent of diabetics can expect to die of heart disease or stroke. There are other complications associated with diabetes, like kidney problems and sores that won't heal, but the thing that is most lethal to diabetics is cardiovascular disease," he says.
"Diabetes accelerates the growth of atherosclerosis, the fatty buildup in the arteries, because it alters the lipoproteins or lipids in the blood that we hear about when we have our cholesterol checked," explains Dr. Williams.
Providence cardiologist Dr. Charlie W. Devlin adds, "Another problem is that the high sugar levels in the blood of a diabetic have been shown to alter the way the linings of the blood vessels work, which promotes clotting in the blood vessels.
"That's significant," says Dr. Devlin, "because clots in the blood vessels that supply the heart cause a heart attack, and clots in the blood vessels that supply the brain cause a stroke."
Diabetes is a disease in which the body fails to produce insulin (Type 1 diabetes) or fails to utilize insulin properly (the far more common Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone the body needs in order to convert sugars, starches and other foods into the energy we need for life.
About 95 percent of people with diabetes have the obesity-linked Type 2. That means "prevention of diabetes is a fundamental task facing today's society aiming to achieve populations living longer and healthier," says Dr. Franco in the new research.
According to the study, diabetic women had more than twice the risk of developing heart disease than non-diabetic women. Women with diabetes who already had heart disease were more than twice as likely to die than non-diabetic women.
Among the men studied, researchers found that those with diabetes also had twice the risk of developing heart disease and faced a 1.7 times higher risk of dying after developing heart trouble, compared with non-diabetic men.
For those 50 and older, diabetic men lived an average of 7.5 years less than men without diabetes, and diabetic women lived an average of 8.2 years less. Moreover, life expectancy without heart disease still fell by 7.8 years in men and 8.4 years in women with diabetes compared with non-diabetics.
"It's sobering to think about the number of years of life lost," says Dr. Larry Deeb, president for medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association. "This is a powerful argument to people who have diabetes that you have to control your diabetes," he says.
"You must control diabetes," echoes Dr. Williams, "or it will control you."