JUL 28, 2017 3:56 PM PDT

How Can People with Type 1 Diabetes Live Longer?

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than other other condition. But diabetics are living longer, fuller lives. What explains their newly-found longevity?



From the Joslin Diabetes Center, co-Principal Investigator Hillary Keenan, PhD introduces the Joslin 50-Year Medalists study, where researchers studied 952 participants with type 1 diabetes who had lived with the disease for at least fifty years.

"People are living longer with type 1 diabetes, and the onset of complications is taking longer," explained Hillary Keenan, PhD, co-Principal Investigator on the Joslin 50-Year Medalist Study. "Good blood glucose control and exercise are important factors in reducing complications and mortality rates for these older individuals."

Unlike type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disease, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease characterized by a mistaken attack on beta cells, which are produced by the pancreas to secrete insulin. Without insulin in the blood to carry glucose, glucose builds up in various parts of the body where it shouldn’t - blood vessels, nerves.

People with type 1 diabetes are especially prone to developing heart disease for a few reasons. First, diabetics are more likely to have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, two factors which would increase anyone’s risk of heart disease. Second, high blood glucose damages blood vessels and nerves, which lead to damage done to the heart muscle. Studies show that the longer a person has type 1 diabetes, the more likely they are to develop heart disease.

In a 2016 commentary in the journal Diabetologia, experts recognized that there have been significant improvements in prognosis for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during the past 100 years. However, there still remains a 12-15 year difference in lifespan between people with type 1 diabetes and people without it.

The Joslin Medalist study separated people with type 1 diabetes into specific age groups to learn more about any health characteristics that might improve their lifespan. They found that better glucose control, no matter when the patient was diagnosed, was linked to a lower level of cardiovascular disease.

“These latest findings demonstrate the continued need to do our best within reason to maintain glycemic control to potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among this population,” Keenan said.

Keenan says that the researchers involved in the study are also enthusiastic about exercise for their type 1 diabetes participants. Additional results from the Medalist study showed that exercise lowered the risk of death from not just cardiovascular disease, but all causes.

The present study was published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Sources: Joslin Diabetes Center, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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