Triglycerides Predict Neuropathy

High triglyceride levels in the blood may be an indicator of risk for diabetic neuropathy. High blood-triglyceride levels were already known to greatly increase cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, further connecting CVD and diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy affects both type 1 and type 2 diabetics, and is responsible for upwards of 75% of amputations in diabetic patients. Neuropathy, in general, describes disorders of the peripheral nervous system (as opposed to the central nervous system), and usually results from microvascular injuries in diabetics. According to the current study, approximately 60% of diabetic patients in the United States suffer from some form of neuropathy, but usually it is diagnosed after significant nerve damage has already occurred. This troubling fact is due to a lack of known risk factors, a problem that the current study might partially solve.

High blood-triglyceride levels have been shown in past research to be a strong indicator of risk for CVD. Triglycerides result from excess calories being converted to fat, as triglycerides themselves are a type of fat, or lipid. Analysis of blood-triglyceride levels is a part of standard blood tests. Diabetes is also a high risk factor for CVD, and these two conditions have been linked in many forms through an abundance of past research.

427 diabetic neuropathy patients were analyzed in the current study. All had “mild to moderate” neuropathy at the onset of the study. Numerous tests were performed over the course of a year, but high blood-triglyceride levels were the most evidently connected to a worsening state of neuropathy, which was determined through declining myelinated fiber density in peripheral nerves. Says lead author Dr. Kelli Sullivan, “in our study, elevated serum triglycerides were the most accurate at predicting nerve fiber loss, compared to all other measures.”

This study establishes another important link between diabetes and CVD. Neuropathy and CVD and two leading causes of mortality in diabetics. Says study author Dr. Rodica Pop-Busui, “Our findings in this study reinforce the tight links between cardiovascular disease and peripheral neuropathy in patients with diabetes. We demonstrated that the same lipid particles that contribute to the progression of atherosclerosis are also very important players in peripheral nerve fiber loss.”

Given that blood-triglyceride levels are so commonly analyzed, and diabetic neuropathy has no substantial previous predictors, the above findings could become extremely important. Senior author Dr. Eva Feldman concludes that “these results set the stage for clinicians to be able to address lowering lipid counts with their diabetes patients with neuropathy as vigilantly as they pursue glucose control.” Triglyceride levels can be treated and controlled through regular exercise, and limiting intake of fats.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Feldman, Eva. Pop-Busui, Rodica. Sullivan, Kelly. Rueter, Anne. Diabetes news release. May 2009.