Vital blood sugar breakthrough could help diabetic patients

We’ve known for some time that there’s a link between high blood pressure and high blood sugar – which can lead to diabetes – but we couldn’t figure out why.

The puzzle has finally been solved by an international team led by the universities of Bristol here in the UK and Auckland, New Zealand.

People with hypertension and/or diabetes are at high risk of life-threatening cardiovascular disease. Even when being treated, a large number of patients will stay high risk.

This is because most medications only treat symptoms and not the causes of high blood pressure and high sugar levels.

Professor Julian Paton, from ­Auckland University, also a senior author, said: “We’ve known for a long time that hypertension and diabetes are inextricably linked and have finally discovered the reason, which will now inform new treatment strategies.”

The important new discovery has shown that a small protein (GLP-1) couples both the body’s control of blood sugar and blood pressure. The research involved contributions from collaborating scientists in Brazil, Germany, Lithuania and Serbia, as well as the UK and New Zealand.

We knew GLP-1 is released from the wall of the gut after eating and triggers insulin from the pancreas to control blood sugar levels. Latest research reveals that GLP-1 also stimulates a small sensory organ called the carotid body located in the neck.

Professor Paton added: “The carotid body is the convergent point where GLP-1 acts to control both blood sugar and blood pressure simultaneously.”

Professor Rod Jackson, who is a world-renowned epidemiologist from the University of Auckland, added: “We’ve known that blood pressure is notoriously difficult to control in patients with high blood sugar, so these findings are really important because by giving GLP-1 we might be able to reduce both sugar and pressure together, and these two factors are major contributors to cardiovascular risk.”

Audrys Pauza, a PhD student at the Bristol Medical School and lead author on the study, said: “The prevalence of diabetes and hypertension is increasing throughout the world, and there is an urgent need to address this.

“Drugs targeting the GLP-1 receptor are already approved for use in humans and widely used to treat diabetes.

“Besides helping to lower blood sugar these drugs also reduce blood pressure, however, the mechanism of this effect wasn’t well understood.

“Now we need research to show that these same drugs can also lower blood pressure so that people at high risk can have bespoke treatment.”