It is widely established that women of childbearing age have high levels of estrogen that protect them against cardiovascular disease. However, if they have type 1 diabetes, having high estrogen levels actually increases their risk of these diseases. A group of scientists is therefore planning to investigate whether nutritional supplements with antioxidants can protect diabetics against cardiovascular disease and the premature death caused by these ailments.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-requiring diabetes. The disease may occur at any time during a person’s life. In most cases, it is a progressive, autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin’s primary task is to transport sugar (glucose) from the blood to the cells that need the sugar for energy. However, in the case of type 1 diabetes, blood sugar levels go up instead. Once it reaches a certain level, you get sugar in your urine. Type 1 diabetes is therefore treated with insulin combined with a special diabetic diet and exercise.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
How estrogen affects the blood vessels in healthy women and women with type 1 diabetes
Epidemiological studies show that women with type 1 diabetes are 2-3 times more likely than non-diabetic women to develop cardiovascular disease. According to Dr. Ryan Harris and his team of researchers at Augusta University in Georgia, USA, it appears that estrogen is the key to premature ageing of blood vessels.
Harris and his colleagues have already documented that estrogen in combination with type 1 diabetes increases levels of oxidative stress in the body, thereby impairing the blood vessels’ ability to dilate. In people with type 1 diabetes, high estrogen levels actually have a potentially dangerous double effect that increases the risk of atherosclerosis.
Petri dish studies show how estrogen is able to make normal blood vessels dilate and cause diabetic blood vessels to constrict. As type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation, this adds to the impact from free radicals and oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress and cardiovascular diseases
Oxidative stress is when there are imbalances between free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
Study with different antioxidants
Although antioxidant therapy has resulted in different outcome, Harris and his team of scientists have shown that this type of therapy has a positive effect on ageing processes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to Harris, it is the first planned study to look into the effect of antioxidants in women with type 1 diabetes over the course of their menstrual cycle. The scientists have recruited 90 premenstrual type 1 diabetic women, 30 healthy premenopausal women, and 45 men with type 1 diabetes.
Instead of giving the women estrogen, the researchers use the naturally occurring high and low estrogen levels that normally occur over the course of a menstrual cycle. They then plan to look closer at cardiovascular health in the participants before and two hours after therapy.
A group of women with type 1 diabetes will be given a cocktail of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and alpha-lipoic acid, an enzyme and a powerful antioxidant that is already known for its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and benefit cardiovascular health in people with diabetes. Another group of diabetic women will be taking supplements of resveratrol, a naturally occurring antioxidant in berries, peanuts, red grapes and red wine. Resveratrol activates Sirt1, a protein with a positive influence on blood vessel health. Sirt1 levels are lower in people with diabetes.
A third group of women with type 1 diabetes will be taking placebo.
The group of healthy women will not receive any treatment but merely serve as a control group for comparison.
This study is designed to give better insight into how estrogen and the different antioxidants affect oxidative stress and cardiovascular disease, and whether antioxidants should be recommended to patients with type 1 diabetes.
Cardiovascular diseases account for 80 percent of deaths and 75 percent of hospitalizations related to type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Antioxidant treatment may decrease cardiovascular risk in women with type 1 diabetes
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