Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: The “Common Soil” Hypothesis

  1. Michael P Stern
  1. Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, Texas
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Michael P. Stern, Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX 78284.

Abstract

Unlike classical microvascular complications, large-vessel atherosclerosis can precede the development of diabetes, suggesting that rather than atherosclerosis being a complication of diabetes, both conditions have common genetic and environmental antecedents, i.e., they spring from a “common soil.” It is now known that adverse environmental conditions, perhaps related to less-than-optimal nutrition, in fetal and early life are associated with an enhanced risk of both diabetes and cardiovascular disease many decades later. These same adverse environmental conditions are also associated with the development in adult life of abdominal obesity and the insulin-resistance syndrome (IRS). The IRS consists of glucose intolerance, hyperinsulinemia, dyslipidemia (high triglyceride and low high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol levels), and hypertension. Although the mechanism underlying this cluster is controversial, the statistical association is well established. All of the elements of the IRS have been documented as risk factors for type II diabetes. Some, but not all, of these elements are also cardiovascular disease risk factors, in particular, hypertension and low HDL cholesterol. Other factors associated with the IRS that may enhance cardiovascular disease risk are plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 and small, dense low-density lipoprotein particles. Whether insulin itself is a risk factor remains controversial, but recent epidemiological evidence has been mostly negative. This question has marked clinical relevance because if the IRS enhances cardiovascular disease risk by virtue of its concomitant factors and not the hyperinsulinemia per se, this would tend to alleviate concerns that intensive insulin management of type II diabetic subjects could enhance the risk of large-vessel atherosclerosis. Clinical trials are urgently needed to settle this point.

  • Received September 30, 1994.
  • Revision received December 19, 1994.
  • Accepted December 19, 1994.
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