According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults with diabetes are up to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke. Blood sugar levels, even when they’re steady at a normal level, pose a threat to heart health. And a new study may be onto why exactly that is.

Presented during the AHA’s 2014 High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, researchers found interleukin-1 (IL-1) — an inflammation-causing protein — makes it so more glucose (sugar) can enter blood cells. IL-1 can also overwhelm cells, signaling for them to escalate inflammation. However, they cultured cells from the body's aorta and admitted the next step would be to see if these results hold up in animals.

Dr. Carlos F. Sánchez-Ferrer, lead study author and professor of pharmacology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, said in a press release that even before animal trials, these findings support the argument that monitoring blood sugar, or glucose, levels isn’t the best way to avoid developing diabetes. In addition to new medications, he said there needs to be a change toward how we manage and treat inflammation.

What even is inflammation? As Medical Daily previously reported, it’s the natural way in which a person’s body responds to tissue damage by foreign, irritating substances. Essentially, inflammation occurs when your body is trying to defend itself. Only inflammation can occur when tissue is totally fine, which then leads to actual damaged tissue. Worse, chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, allergies, arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Lifestyle changes (the kind Ferrer was talking about) are the first, possibly best, ways to make sure your body is on the defense when it needs to be. This includes regular exercise and eating more anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish oil, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.

Alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and mindful meditation, has also been found to reduce risk for inflammation. Though some believe these remedies aren't as helpful, or provide relief at all, it’s more so that they’re not as understood as traditional methods, like anti-inflammatory mediciations, are.

The AHA reported diabetes patients are also at increased risk for heart disease when they have abnormal blood pressure, cholesterol, weight gain, and smoke. Lifestyle changes can positively impact these as well. In fact, the AHA reported by controling these risk factors, heart disease can be delayed and/or avoided altogether.

Source: Sanchez-Ferrer C et al. Inflammation Converts Glucose Into A Deleterious Agent In Human Aortic Smooth Muscle Cells. American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions. 2014.