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Researchers have discovered how diabetes, by driving inflammation and slowing blood flow, dramatically accelerates atherosclerosis, according to research to be published in the March 14 edition of the journal Circulation Research.

Experts once believed that atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, developed when too much cholesterol clogged arteries with fatty deposits called plaques. When blood vessels became completely blocked, heart attacks and strokes occurred. Today most agree that the reaction of the body's immune system to fatty build-up, more than the build-up itself, creates heart attack risk. Immune cells traveling with the blood mistake fatty deposits for intruders, akin to bacteria, home in on them, and attack. This causes inflammation that makes plaques more likely to swell, rupture and cut off blood flow.

Making matters worse, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, a disease where patients' cells cannot efficiently take in dietary sugar, causing it to build up in the blood. In part because diabetes increases atherosclerosis-related inflammation, diabetic patients are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
 
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