Haptoglobin and Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on June 14, 2020

If you have diabetes, there's a higher chance that you could have many other health problems, like heart disease and high blood pressure.

A protein in your blood called haptoglobin helps protect you from some of the heart-related complications of diabetes. But whether it works like it should depends on your DNA, or genes.

Several studies have looked at why some people with diabetes have heart and artery problems and others don’t. It appears that the kind of haptoglobin you have has a lot to do with it.

Protective Protein

Your liver makes haptoglobin, and it’s found in your plasma, the watery part of the blood. It's an antioxidant. That means it protects your body from damage caused by certain chemical reactions. Your body makes more when you have an injury, infection, or inflammation.

Hemoglobin is what carries iron in red blood cells. When these cells reach the end of their natural lifespan, they break down, and what’s left goes into your bloodstream. That loose hemoglobin can damage your blood vessels.

Haptoglobin’s job is to soak up loose hemoglobin molecules before they make trouble.

Haptoglobin and Heart Risk

A certain gene controls haptoglobin, and it has two versions. You get one gene from each parent. So your pair of haptoglobin genes could be both version 1, both version 2, or one of each. Your particular combination is called your genotype. Problems come when you have diabetes and 2-2 (version 2 from both your parents).

2-2 haptoglobin doesn’t get rid of hemoglobin molecules as well as the other types do. Among other problems, that seems to keep “good” cholesterol from doing what it should to lower your overall cholesterol level.

Research shows that people with the 2-2 genotype are more likely than people with either the 1-1 or 2-1 genotype to have heart problems if they have diabetes. That’s true for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have found the 2-2 genotype also may give people with type 1 diabetes a greater chance of kidney failure. And kidney disease can affect your heart health.


What You Can Do

A DNA test is the only way to find out what kind of haptoglobin you have. Ask your doctor whether you should get tested.

If you know you’re more likely to have problems with your heart and your blood vessels, you can manage the other things that cause them, like your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Here’s how to keep those under control:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Get to a healthy weight.
  • Exercise most days.
  • Eat less saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, ask your doctor about medicines to lower your blood pressure and bring your cholesterol and blood sugar into healthy ranges.

Vitamin E might also help. It’s a powerful antioxidant, and some research shows it may help with the problems that 2-2 haptoglobin can cause in people with diabetes. But don’t take vitamin E unless your doctor says to. If you don’t have the 2-2 genotype, antioxidant supplements may do more harm than good.

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association.

Costacou, T. Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research, August 2012.

Cahill, L. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, February 2013.

Orchard, T. Diabetes, September 2013.

American Heart Association: “Kidney Disease and Diabetes.”

Costacou, T. Diabetes, June 2008.


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