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Retinopathy is a red flag that heart health may be in serious jeopardy

The Naked Eye

You’ve just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and if your doctor is on the ball he’ll recommend you get an eye exam, ASAP, to check for retinopathy – a disorder (common to diabetics) that blocks blood flow to the eyes.

Without question, heart health is a front-burner concern for every diabetic. But for those who DO test positive for retinopathy, it really is time to clear the decks and take urgent steps to protect your heart.

Lethal link

About two years ago I told you about a study that linked retinopathy to increased risk of congestive heart failure (CHF).

Researchers at Australia’s University of Melbourne examined seven years of health records in more than 11,000 middle-aged subjects who had received retinal exams. Results showed that risk of CHF was three times higher among subjects with retinopathy compared to subjects without the condition. The UM team concluded that retinopathy should be considered a independent predictor of CHF, even if a patient has no other CHF risk factors.

The lead author of that study recently revisited the retinopathy/heart connection with a group of researchers from the University of Sydney.

In a new study published this month, the Sydney team compared the results of 3,000 retinopathy exams (mostly among diabetics) with subjects’ health records. They found that patients with retinopathy were almost twice as likely to die of heart disease within the 12-year study period.

Vein health support

Whether or not you have type 2 diabetes, there are several important steps you can take to minimize risk of both retinopathy and heart disease.

Prevention of retinopathy begins with control of glucose and insulin levels. Of course, this means getting regular exercise and cutting simple carbohydrates and highly refined foods from the diet.

In the e-Alert “Seeing the Light” (6/7/04), I told you about a multiyear study of more than 1,300 subjects that examined the effects of vitamins C and E on diabetic retinopathy. Subjects who took supplements of these vitamins for three years or more were significantly less likely to develop retinopathy compared to subjects who didn’t use supplements. Studies have shown that a deficiency of vitamin B-6 may also contribute to retinopathy.

Pycnogenol – a pine bark extract – has been shown to help maintain venous health AND blood sugar control in diabetics. In a study I told you about in the e-Alert “Slow Sugar” (3/22/07), subjects who used Pycnogenol had significant reduction in venous pressure, capillary leakage, and blood vessel inflammation compared to subjects who didn’t use the extract.

Policosanol – a compound of fatty alcohols derived primarily from sugar cane – has been shown to provide key cardiovascular benefits. In a 2002 issue of Nutrition & Healing, alternative healthcare pioneer Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., wrote: “Policosanol helps to prevent strokes by inhibiting platelet aggregation and abnormal blood clotting and may lower blood pressure. And unlike the popular patent medications, policosanol has virtually no side effects, and does not seriously interfere with our bodies’ ability to produce co-enzyme Q10 as the patent statin medications do.”

Another recommendation from Dr. Wright, Ginkgo has been shown to improve impaired circulation throughout the body. A Taiwanese study that examined Gingko’s effect on 25 subjects with diabetic neuropathy found that blood flow to retinal capillaries was increased by 10 percent.

Talk to your doctor before adding new supplements to your daily regimen.

“Retinopathy and Risk of Congestive Heart Failure” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293, No. 1, 1/5/05,
“Retinopathy Predicts Coronary Heart Disease Mortality” Heart, Published online ahead of print 8/12/08,