Diabetes and Cholesterol
Created by Dr. William J. Keller
The disease diabetes mellitus is characterized by the pancreas either not producing insulin (Type I or juvenile-onset diabetes) or not properly utilizing the insulin that is produced (Type II or adult- onset diabetes). The hormone insulin is essential for the transport of glucose from the bloodstream to the interior of various cells in the body where it is used as an energy source.
Diabetes is devastating and is occurring more and more frequently in the U.S. When you consider the predisposing factors and some of the disease symptoms, it's not surprising that new cases of diabetes are accelerating in frequency. Four of these predisposing factors (obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and insulin resistance) constitute metabolic syndrome and are precursors to diabetes. In my opinion, metabolic syndrome, or syndrome X, must be reversed before it leads to diabetes mellitus.
The association of high blood cholesterol levels with diabetes is understandable based on our knowledge of biochemistry and physiology. We know that in the absence of insulin, or where insulin has trouble doing its job (insulin resistance), glucose cannot gain access to the interior of cells such as those in skeletal muscle. This leads to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream (hyperglycemia or high blood sugar) and a shortage of energy. To compensate for this energy shortfall, the body starts using fat as an energy source. The excessive breakdown of body fat leads to several metabolic problems, the most serious of which is elevated blood lipid levels (cholesterol being one of those blood lipids).
A recent paper in the journal Cell Metabolism was stunning to me and proved to be a scientific revelation (1). Scientists know that the brain contains more cholesterol than any other organ in the body and that the brain is responsible for producing its own cholesterol. If sufficient amounts are not synthesized in the brain, then synapses (connections between nerve cells) are not formed properly and nerves (neurons) do not function adequately in processes such as appetite regulation, behavior, memory, pain perception and motor activity.
It has been found that cholesterol production in the brain decreases in cases of diabetes. To my knowledge, this is the first report of the effect of insulin levels and the disease diabetes on cholesterol synthesis in the brain. The take-home message here is that when a cholesterol deficiency in the brain occurs due to diabetes, the resulting neuronal dysfunction probably leads to the well-known diabetic neuropathy and possibly neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Also, it has been well-established that diabetics are more prone to depression, memory loss and eating disorders. It seems that we now have a scientific explanation for these medical problems associated with diabetes. These findings raise a disturbing question involving potential interactions between diabetes and drugs commonly used to lower elevated blood levels of cholesterol.
The old adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is quite appropriate in view of these new findings. It is imperative to avoid diabetes mellitus. One of the best ways to do this is to combat the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Lose weight at all costs. Eat a sensible diet and exercise regularly.
Focus on reducing high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol and high blood sugar. Correcting metabolic syndrome symptoms may prevent the inevitable progression toward Type II diabetes. Many dietary supplements can assist in addressing these issues.
1. Suzuki, R. et. al, Cell Metab., 12(6) :567 (2010).
Disclaimer: The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your health care provider with questions.