Too Much Sugar Can Stress Your Heart

Sugar molecule weakens stressed heart tissue in study

spoonful of sugar cubes

A recent study originally published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that large amounts of sugar damaged human heart tissue and caused disease in laboratory animals.

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Numerous studies have shown that chronic high blood sugar levels (associated with uncontrolled diabetes and other conditions) lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and are associated with heart disease and heart failure. However, the exact physiologic effect of sugar on heart tissue remained uncertain until now.

Stressing the heart

Researchers worked with test animals and human heart tissue samples to learn more about links between diet and cardiovascular disease.

Endocrinologist Betul Hatipoglu, MD, did not participate in the study, but reviewed it. She explains, “In this study, a small molecule, glucose 6-phosphate (G6P), which is a product of sugar from food, was shown to cause stress to the heart.”

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Glucose 6-phosphate actually decreased the function of the heart muscle, which could eventually lead to heart failure. 

The team used animal models to show that G6P accumulation in the blood (as seen in high-sugar diets) injured heart muscle that was already stressed from high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

People who have chronic high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels could benefit from the results of this research, so further investigation is warranted.

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Sugar blocking drugs

Once the researchers observed the damage that G6P had on stressed heart tissue, they set out to prove that it was G6P that caused the problems. They did this by using drugs (rapamycin and metformin) that blocked or reduced G6P’s signals.

The sugar-blocking drugs protected heart muscle from stress and prevented damage to cardiac function in the test animals, confirming the researchers’ original findings.

The sugar study is significant because it shows a link between sugar and heart muscle damage. A diet too high in sugar and starches increases the risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, so knowing more about the direct effects of sugar on heart tissue is important.

These findings could eventually lead to more effective treatment and prevention of heart disease and heart failure, specifically for those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or diabetes.