Researchers at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan have found that a common blood test for triglycerides may allow doctors to predict which patients with diabetes are more likely to develop neuropathy.
The researchers looked at data from 427 people with diabetes who had already developed neuropathy, an inflammatory condition in which nerves in the limbs become damaged or even deadened. Its most common symptoms are tingling, numbness, and pain.
Tracking the group over a year, they found that the patients with elevated levels of triglycerides were “significantly more likely” to develop further nerve fiber loss. In addition to discovering this valuable new diagnostic tool, the researchers found that levels of blood glucose and other fats in the bloodstream were not good predictors of deepening neuropathy.
Produced by the liver, triglycerides are a combination of fat and glycerol that is used as an energy reserve. The body stores most triglycerides in adipose tissue and circulates others in the bloodstream as a readily available energy source. Too many triglycerides in the bloodstream is a known risk factor for cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and the blockage or deterioration of blood vessels.
Scientists increasingly see a close link between cardiovascular disease and diabetes-most of the deaths attributed to diabetes are from cardiovascular events. The Michigan research into triglycerides establishes progressive neuropathy as a significant new predictor of cardiovascular problems.
Fortunately, the same therapies that doctors apply to diabetes can work to lower triglycerides: avoidance of certain fats (such as saturated) and participation in regular exercise.
The study was published in the journal Diabetes and is now online.