A study to be published in the July issue of the journal Diabetes reports that when it comes to predicting the likelihood that a diabetic patient will develop neuropathy in the near future, looking at blood fats may be a much more valuable indicator than blood sugars. Neuropathy is a condition that occurs in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, in which nerves in the extremities may be degraded by high blood sugar levels, which, the researchers say, can lead to numbness, tingling, or pain in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.

Of the 23 million people in the country affected by diabetes, about 60% also develop neuropathy.

Kelli A. Sullivan and her team at the University of Michigan Medical School studied 427 diabetic patients suffering from neuropathy. They analyzed the patients' blood for certain measures such as blood sugar and triglycerides. They found that the higher the person's triglycerides were, the greater the likelihood that he or she would develop neuropathy over the next year. This relationship was not true for blood sugar, the researchers found.

"We found that out of all the data collected on these patients, elevated triglycerides were the factor that differed the most, when we compared the patients who lost nerve fibers with those who didn't," says Sullivan.

Of the 23 million people in the country affected by diabetes, about 60% also develop neuropathy.

The best way to lower one's triglyceride level is to exercise regularly and to avoid eating too many fats -- the same steps in combating heart disease and high cholesterol. In fact, another of the study's authors, Rodica Pop-Busui, says that the "findings in this study reinforce the tight links between cardiovascular disease and peripheral neuropathy in patients with diabetes. We demonstrated that the same lipid particles that contribute to the progression of atherosclerosis are also very important players in peripheral nerve fiber loss."

The researchers urge doctors to stress lowering triglycerides as emphatically as they stress lowering blood sugar. "These results set the stage for clinicians to be able to address lowering lipid counts with their diabetes patients with neuropathy as vigilantly as they pursue glucose control," said the study's senior author, Eva L. Feldman.

Feldman also adds that since triglycerides are included in diabetics' routine blood work-ups, this measure can be considered a convenient - and accurate - tool for helping predict and treat neuropathy early, before too much damage has been done.