In a new study, researchers found that the Western diet, one rich in sugar, cholesterol and fat, may worsen diabetes complications.
The research was conducted by a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes affect the health of blood vessels.
People with diabetes often experience complications in the eyes, heart, and other organs because of worsening blood vessel damage over the long term.
Previous research has shown that one early sign of systemic inflammation in the blood vessels is the increased sticking of immune cells to the inner lining.
As inflammation damage continues in the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye—the retina—diabetic retinopathy can ensue.
Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness.
However, it has been unknown how elevated blood levels of sugar, cholesterol, and fat may contribute to blood vessel damage in relation to the diet.
In the new study, the team wanted to see which components of the Western diet contribute to the retinal inflammation and damage in diabetes.
They studied rats with type 1 diabetes and generated high-fat diets with different levels of fats, moderate carbs, and no sugars.
They examined the accumulation of immune cells in the retinal blood vessels.
The team found that neither high levels of saturated nor unsaturated fats increased retinal damage.
But the combination of high cholesterol with specifically saturated fats in the Western diet exacerbated the damage.
The finding provides important information about the levels of fat in the blood, dietary fats, and the development of diabetes complications.
It confirms carbohydrates and dietary fats have related and overlapping metabolic effects.
In the future, the team will explore the contributions of other dietary components to vascular damage in type 2 diabetes.
The lead author of the study is Aliaa Barakat, Ph.D., a senior research scientist in the Molecular Biomarkers Nano-Imaging Laboratory at the Brigham.
The study is published in The FASEB Journal.
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