Researchers hope the findings could lead to more ‘heart-friendly’ diabetes treatments.
People with diabetes have impaired metabolism, but the mechanism by which this translates into a fatty build-up in cardiac tissue was previously unknown.
Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, found the build up is caused by high blood sugar and insulin levels, not by influx of fat.
The team used MRI and spectroscopy to view the deposits in the heart for the first time.
It gave 18 healthy men and women sugar intravenously and found resulting levels of sugar and insulin caused fatty deposits in the heart to spike by 34% within just six hours.
These elevated levels caused ‘over exertion’ of the heart’s metabolism, which also led to reduction in the heart function.
Study lead Professor Michael Kreb said first diagnosis of diabetes occurs on average five years too late, and most people with diabetes die of heart disease.
He added: ‘Our data show that the foundation for damage can be laid early on, especially in patients with high blood sugar and hyperinsulinaemia – an elevated insulin level – during prediabetes and early diabetes.’
The university is now running further studies that could help develop more heart-friendly treatments for people with diabetes.