Can Blood Sugar Raise Cholesterol and Triglycerides?

A diabetic testing his blood sugar.
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Diabetes is an enormously complex condition that can trigger a host of complications. The disease, in which the body can't properly produce or process insulin, is best known for abnormally high levels of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Diabetes can also increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels, or the fats present in the blood. This, in turn, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Why Does High Blood Sugar Affect Cholesterol?

Insulin is a hormone with a central role in how the body metabolizes both sugar and fat for energy. So when there's something wrong with insulin, it's likely that cholesterol and triglycerides will also be affected, not just glucose. Diabetes lowers the amount of "good cholesterol," or HDL that sweeps through the blood and vacuums up excess fat.

When HDL levels are lowered, the "bad cholesterol," or LDL, increases, as do the triglycerides. Low HDL levels paired with high triglycerides result in increased ​plaque buildup in artery walls, the blockages that lead to heart attacks and strokes. In fact, the American Diabetes Association reports that more than 65 percent of diabetics die from either heart attacks or strokes.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a family of interrelated risk factors in one person that puts him or her at especially high risk for heart attack or stroke. The risk factors include high blood pressure, insulin resistance, blood fat disorders (the cholesterol issues just mentioned) and excessive amounts of fat around the abdomen. It's important to note that the syndrome is closely associated with diabetes because insulin resistance (sometimes called "insulin resistance syndrome") often leads to type 2 diabetes.

Preventing High Blood Sugar

Once you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you've got to be even more vigilant about your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, as well as your blood sugar. That's what doctors mean when they refer to the diabetic's ABCs: the A1C blood sugar test (A), blood pressure (B) and cholesterol (C). That means having your blood checked at the doctor's office at least twice a year.

Ways to prevent high blood sugar include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a high-fiber and low-fat diet
  • Exercising 30 minutes a day, at least four days a week
  • Quitting smoking if you are a smoker, and quit smokeless tobacco
  • Working with a doctor to decide when medication may be necessary

Controlling your blood sugar level is important for many aspects of your health when you have diabetes. Monitoring it and doing everything you can to stay within limits will help you reduce your health risks. It can reduce the risk of many of the major complications of diabetes.

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Article Sources

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Additional Reading

  • "Diabetes: Heart Disease and Stroke." diabetes.org. June 2008. American Diabetes Association.

  • "Diabetes Basics." diabetes.org. American Diabetes Association.

  • "Metabolic Syndrome." americanheart.org. 5/14/2014. American Heart Association