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Sugar and the Heart

University of Virginia

Any dentist will tell you sugar’s bad for your teeth.  Now scientists say it may also take a long-term  toll on your ticker, causing heart failure in more than five million Americans each year.  A team of scientists at the University of Virginia hopes to learn more about the relationship between sugar and the heart, as Sandy Hausman reports.

University of Virginia
Susanna Keller, MD plans to study the hearts of laboratory rates ti discern damage caused by long-term exposure to blood sugar.

The normal heart is powered by fatty acids – but under stress, with a condition like high blood pressure for example, the heart switches to another fuel – sugar. 

“Eventually leading to enlargement of the heart, thickening of the walls and failure,” says Bijoy Kundu, a research scientist at UVA who got a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to track glucose entering the hearts of laboratory rats. Using advanced imaging technology, he hopes to identify this pattern before the hearts are damaged.

“If we can identify this window, we can do early treatment and prevent all these downstream events,” he explains.

When the rats have died, Associate Professor of Medicine Susanna  Keller will take over.

“We cannot establish all the changes by just doing imaging," she says, "so I will be studying the hearts themselves.”

Kundu and Keller believe It might be possible to prescribe metformin – a diabetes drug that suppresses glucose production by the liver, and in so doing protect the heart.