Healthy heart cells are omnivores, meaning they can use several types of fuel to do their work. But for people with poorly managed or undiagnosed diabetes, the heart's fuel source is limited, and that can cause problems during heart attacks and stroke.
New research from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation might hold promise for reversing changes to the heart caused by diabetes.
Diabetes affects 25.8 million Americans, including 296,000 Oklahomans.
Normally, cells use a hormone called insulin to turn glucose — a type of sugar created by the body when it processes food — into energy. But diabetic patients' bodies don't make enough insulin or become insulin-resistant, so they can't process the glucose.
Heart cells prefer to use fat as fuel. So it might not seem like a big deal that heart cells can't process glucose in diabetic patients, said OMRF scientist Ken Humphries.
“Heart cells always need to be able to make energy so the heart can keep beating,” he said. “When you start restricting which fuels they can use, that causes problems.”
In a paper published in the Biochemical Journal, Humphries found that mitochondria — the power generators — in the heart cells of diabetic mice looked like they were broken, but they could still create energy if given the right fuel.