A lot of people with diabetes wonder why their doctors and diabetes educators are seemingly obsessed with keeping blood sugars as close to normal as we can. After all, blood sugars that are only mildly elevated usually don’t come with much in the way of symptoms.
The point to keeping sugars as well controlled as possible is to prevent complications of diabetes developing over time – this includes damage to the eyes, heart, kidneys, and nerves in the feet and elsewhere in the body.
And – a new paper published has now shown us that the benefit of good control of diabetes to prevent cardiovascular disease persists for at least thirty years!
The study, which was recently published in the journal Diabetes Care, evaluated patients 30 years after their initial participation in the famed (well, famous in the diabetes world anyway) DCCT trial. This was a clinical trial that enrolled 1,441 patients with type 1 diabetes, and assigned them to receive either more intense, or less intense, control of their blood sugars for a mean of 6.5 years.
During the 30 years of follow up, they found that the people who were in the tightly controlled group 30 years previously had a 30% reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and a 32% reduction in the likelihood of having a heart attack, stroke, or dying from a cardiovascular cause, compared to those who were in the less tightly controlled group. The tighter blood sugar control during the time of the original 6.5 year study was statistically responsible for all of the difference in cardiovascular disease between the two groups.
This data really impresses upon us the power of what we call the ‘legacy effect’ – good control of diabetes early on prevents complications later in life. (Note: there is a similar trial in type 2 diabetics called the UKPDS study, which also showed that the legacy effect exists 10 years later.)
I think it is challenging for all of us to look forward 30 years into the future, and think about the importance of what we are doing now to our future self. That being said, if you think about it, we actually spend a lot of our lives planning for our 30+ year future self. Take financial planning, for example – most of us structure our home purchases, savings structures, and investments with the goal of planning for the distant future. As I see it, planning for our health in the future is actually no different – and for people with type 1 diabetes, we now have very long term data to back this up.